Richard 11 by William Shakespeare. The Brockley Jack Studio, Brockley Road, London SE4 to 5 March 2022. 3***. William Russell

Director Lewis Brown has delivered a crisp and well spoken version of the play with a fine oerformance by Michael Rivers in the title role. Rivers might have been a little less camp in the earlier scenes as Richard loses control of his nobles and handles Bolingbroke (a statuesque Fleur De Wit) disastrously but once toppled he comes up with an impressive display of a man destroyed by his enemies and his own incompetence. The play has been gender blind cast and there is a problem with this as it confuses just who all these people are for the audience – the intricacies of the relationships between all these barons is complicated enough as it is. There is nothing wrong with gender blind casting as such – it opens roles to players previously not available to them – but it needs to be done within the context of the whole. It sometimes works best when the entire company is of one gender. When playing a man the player must convince as a man and the same goes in reverse. Frankly it is a minefield across which I really do not want to tread but when staging a gender blind production it is something that has to be deal with and I am not sure the Brown and the company have quite managed it. But there are commendable performances all round and a well conceived set built, if not necessarily designed – the programme is unclear – by David Stanley to admire. Above all one can hear the words, important when doing Shakespeare, particularly the history pays with those dynastic complexities, as otherwise speeches can become archaic gibberish. At least the mind could follow the downfall of a king who had failed to control his barons and his replacement by a stronger figure if at times the eye did not. The need for quite a lot of doubling also did not help. While We Are Animate may not have broken new ground the production is one to admire.

Michael Rivers: Richard,
Bolingbroke: Fleur De Wit.
Queen Isabella: Nada Babikir.
Northumberland/Mowbray: Daniel Ghezzi.
John of Gaunt/ Carlisle: Hilary Burns.
Aumerle: Harriet Barrow.
Bushy: Daniel Takefusa.
York: Lizzy Dive.

Director: Lewis Brown.
Lighting Design: Jack Channer.
Set Build: David Stanley.
Art Work: Mark Barrow.
Production Photograph: We Are Animate.

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