Stratford has had a massive buzz of excitement for a somewhat shorter run: David Tennant back at the RSC, playing the lead role in Richard II – the king who felt too safe in his divine right to the throne, and consequently lost it all. Richard is also one of the kings with ongoing rumours about his sexual inclination.
Tennant’s interpretation, after the early previews with just a hint of campness, has been a highly credible display of a basically insecure young man who is only sure of one thing: that he is always right and that God gave him the entitlement to do just as he pleases. Floating on stage, angelic in dress and hairstyle, ‘luvvy’ at times, a loose canon immediately afterwards, dangerously unpredictable: a weak, profoundly bored king who takes the world and its inhabitants as his toys.
David Tennant rolls out his full potential, and it has left audiences breathless night after night. Especially in the second half, when King Richard is faced with the loss of everything he believed in, he is masterly. What is it about toes? Seeing a character’s emotions displayed through actors’ toes always cracks it for me… Amazing! Incredibly well done!
Richard’s counterpart is Bollingbroke, later to be King Henry IV, here portrayed by Nigel Lindsay. A bit of a rough character, one is led to think, he oozes noble intentions, looks martial throughout and intimidates Richard and those loyal to him enough to make him King instead.
Absolute gems in this production, that’s the group of well-seasoned actors:
Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt, who delivers the famous “Sceptered isle” speech in a refreshing, questioning attitude, rather than the so often used fervent patriotic approach, brings a lot of honesty to this medieval tycoon. His rendition allows one of Shakespeare’s favourite backhanders, the “What’s changed?” question, to shine through to the 21st century.
John of Gaunt’s brother, the Duke of York, is played by Oliver Ford Davies, a warm-hearted masterpiece of acting.
A very special treat is their brother Woodstock’s widow, breathtakingly acted by Jane Lapotaire, who absolutely nails it in this, her first appearance on stage after ten years.
Also very touching, Oliver Rix as York’s son Aumerle.
The music by Paul Englishby is enthralling throughout, but especially as performed by the three sopranos Charlotte Ashley, Anna Bolton and Helena Raeburn.
All of this is performed to the background of an amazing set. Stephen Brimson Lewis, the set designer, uses a lowered stage with inbuilt dungeon and a background of silvery-golden chains. Visual projection on these chains creates depth of scale and turns the view into cathedral, castle, curtain in a stunning 3-D display.
Richard II is being performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon from 10 October 2013 – 16 November 2013, and from 9 December 2013 to 25 January 2014 at the Barbican Theatre, London.
Photo by Kwame Lestrade
Richard II has been broadcast live in cinemas around the world on 13 November 2013 and it is going to be shown in lots more over the next few months.