RICHARD II: Shakespeare, RSC

RICHARD II: William Shakespeare

RSC: The Other Place

Review: Rod Dungate, 23rd April 2000

Quite the best production of Richard II I’ve seen for a very
long time

Let me not beat about the bush: Steven Pimlott’s production is quite the best
production of Richard II I’ve seen in a very long time. It is clear, uncluttered,
beautifully shaped and sensitive to the play’s needs. In the small Other Place
auditorium the production has a directness that is surprising.

At the centre of the play is politics: it confronts head the idea that a ruler should
be there by the People’s choice. Set vaguely (but not distractedly) in modern dress,
men in grey suits abound. Chief among them is Northumberland, and Christopher
Saul manages to combine the facelessness of a civil servant with the authority of a
man who knows what’s right and intends to make it happen. This is a key role, and
Saul makes it register.

Samuel West’s Richard is a very young man. We have much sympathy with him
in the earlier scenes in which he tries to broker peace between the rival factions of
Bolingbroke and Mowbray. He loses our sympathy, however, as he pushes his luck a
bit too far. It’s not his relationship with his courtiers (the sexual relationship between
Richard and Aumerle is clearly stated), but more the way he is dismissive of those not
young or pretty enough to be in his set. His youthful irresponsibility has become a
cruel arrogance.

Relieved of his crown, West’s Richard grows in stature: West handles
Shakespeare’s verse with great ease. He literally grows in majesty in front of our

David Troughton, Bolingbroke, is all loud bluster. He is a solid man of action,
but we sense, in Troughton’s performance, that this is a man not entirely comfortable
in the position he acquires. It is as if he senses he was not born to it: though indeed in
the closing moments we see him grow to fit it. He too grows in majesty.

The dreadful ironies within the play are highlighted by Pimlott’s intelligent
working of the text – short sections are repeated forward and back through the
production. This allows us to see the play from many viewpoints at once: oddly like
looking at a Picasso painting.

A special word must be earned by Adam Levy’s enthusiastic Harry Percy. Levy’s
Percy is all youthful enthusiasm, he makes his first entrance crawling along on his
belly and is every inch the young soldier. The humour that derives from his
performance is gentle, never mocking, always welcome.

2001-09-14 20:32:29

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