Monthly Archives: October 2013

Richard II – The King with the bored look on his face

Production in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avonrichard2
directed by Gregory Doran

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!

Nigel Lindsay (Bolingbroke), David Tennant (Richard II) Background: L-R- Simon Thorp (Surrey), OliverRix (Aumerle), Jim Hooper (Bishop of Carlisle), Keith Osborn (Abbot), Sean Chapman (Northumberland), Youssef Kerkour (Fitzwater), Edmund Wiseman (Harry Percy)

Nigel Lindsay (Bolingbroke), David Tennant (Richard II)
Background: L-R- Simon Thorp (Surrey), OliverRix (Aumerle), Jim Hooper (Bishop of Carlisle), Keith Osborn (Abbot), Sean Chapman (Northumberland), Youssef Kerkour (Fitzwater), Edmund Wiseman (Harry Percy)

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.


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Help with the Henrys

and the Edwards, and the Richards…9781849432412_1

White Hart and Red Lion, the extent of history conveyed by pub signs, a campervan stacked with survival rations of Pork Pie and Pinot Grigio, that is how this most entertaining ‘support book’ takes on its mission.

– So Edward IV, he was Prince Edward, before he became King?
– No, that’s not the same person, his father was Richard Plantagenet.
– Who? The Lionheart?
– Hahaha, no, the Duke of York.
– Hmpf, if you say so, but Henry IV, he’s a Bolingbroke, not a Plantagenet, isn’t he?
– You mean Prince Hal’s father, he is both, and the son of John of Gaunt.

At this point, our own conversations usually ended, over much confused head-shaking. The nobility’s habit of sporting multiple names, including the option to change them, and job titles, repeatedly and for dubious reasons, made the genealogy part of Shakespeare’s history plays near impenetrable – probably not just for me.

Nick Asbury’s book “White Hart Red Lion, The England of Shakespeare’s Histories” appeared, as a stroke of genius, at exactly the right time, just before the circle started with David Tennant on stage in Stratford-upon-Avon as Richard II and well ahead of next year’s Henry IV Part I&II.

As opposed to the many historical summaries I have consulted for a way out of my royalty confusion, Nick Asbury sets his untangling of history’s players into some kind of road movie scenario, from the perspective of a Histories player. As an actor, who has been under the skin of many a highborn participant in Shakespeare’s history plays, Nick follows the development from Richard II, via famous and less famous events and characters, through to Richard III’s undoing at Bosworth, along the English (and occasionally, French) roads and rivers that set the backdrop for 100 years of feuds, wars and bloodshed.

We are taken to developments in society that still leave their marks on current-day Britain, we learn a thing or two about Ale and language and propaganda…

Nick Asbury’s vivid description, always connected to a sense of place and some helpful trivia, the combination of these three elements makes it a lot easier to understand the connections and changeovers of the multi-named lot. An occasional glance at the map and the family tree right at the front helps solving residuary puzzles.

For those of us who were never quite sure what Aumerle had to do with the hapless Richard II – this is the way to find out. A very enjoyable read, and a problem solver!

A criticism? Just the one: Jeanne d’Arc should have deserved the mention of her birthplace, Domrémy, some 221 miles away from Orléans. But otherwise: great!

White Hart, Red Lion: The England of Shakespeare’s Histories
by Nick Asbury

Paperback: 198 pages, also available as a Kindle edition
Publisher: Oberon Books Ltd. (1 July 2013)
ISBN-10: 1849432414