RICHARD II: William Shakespeare
RST and RSC, Stratford upon Avon
Runs: 3h, one interval, till 16 11 13
Run sold out – check box office for returns: 0844 800 1110
Review: Alexander Ray Edser
A remarkable achievement.
I suspect David Tennant may have surprised us all with this highly individual creation of Richard II. Though on reflection maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by it at all for two reasons; firstly he’s a superbly talented and charismatic actor and secondly his Richard makes total sense – it’s just that we haven’t seen it’s like before.
Nowhere to be seen in the opening scenes is the Tennant-Richard we might have expected; in his place is a preening, self-created, presentation of a monarch – Richard as he thinks he should be seen. This monarch can hardly bring himself to listen to those, other than his favourites, around him; enunciating with studied care this Richard is a study in self, it teeters on self-parody. Tennant uses the upper register of his voice, is slightly camp . . . and is highly irritating. Not just to us, of course, but to those around him.
So why should we feel sorry for him? No reason at all, but this is of no matter – Richard believes he rules by Divine Right. Richard is no easy tragic hero.
He returns to England, still performing, this time as a barefoot penitent. But as the true tragedy strikes, so the true Richard begins to come through. Brought low, there is a tiny scene between Richard and Aumerle (Oliver Rix). Amidst their despair, as deep as a well, Richard playfully offers Aumerle his crown; there is a moment of shared laughter, a shaft of sunlight fleetingly in the gloom. Here is affection, here is love, here is Richard’s inner truth. Here is a regal monarch. He holds Aumerle to comfort him; it is the turning point.
From then on, astoundingly, as Shakespeare ratchets up his language register, so Tennant ratchets down Richard’s performing; a thrilling dramatic tension is achieved. We can, now, mourn our tragic hero, deeply though not comfortably.
Tennant and director, Gregory Doran, have orchestrated a wonderful ark for this performance.
Yet this is no one-man show. Bolingbroke, for instance, is every bit, in Nigel Lindsay’s performance, a macho warrior, he’s a not-very-likeable, wysiwyg bruiser, a sharp contrast with Richard. Oliver Ford Davies creates a York clearly out of his depth, at times drawing from the script some welcome humour. It’s wonderful to see Jane Lapotaire back at Stratford, her scene as Duchess of Gloucester is mesmerising.
Settings and lighting are highly atmospheric and all is under-pinned by a telling score from Paul Englishby; it moves from ecclesiastical to warlike with great ease and effect.
Antony Byrne – Mowbray
Sean Chapman – Northumberland
Marty Cruickshank – Duchess of York
Oliver Ford Davies – Duke of York
Gracy Goldman – Lady-in-Waiting
Marcus Griffiths – Greene
Emma Hamilton – The Queen
Jim Hooper – Bishop of Carlisle
Youssef Kerkour – Willoughby
Jane Lapotaire – Duchess of Gloucester
Nigel Lindsay – Bolingbroke
Jake Mann – Bagot
Sam Marks – Bushy
Miranda Nolan – Lady-in-Waiting
Keith Osborn – Scroop
Michael Pennington – John of Gaunt
Joshua Richards – Ross/Lord Marshall
Oliver Rix – Aumerle
David Tennant – Richard II
Simon Thorp – Salisbury
Edmund Wiseman – Harry Percy
Director – Gregory Doran
Designer – Stephen Brimson Lewis
Lighting – Tim Mitchell
Sound – Martin Slavin
Music – Paul Englishby
Movement – Mike Ashcroft
Fights – Terry King