Following Ivan the Terrible's reign, Godunov had been adviser, and de facto regent, to the mentally disabled Tsar Fyodor I. On his death the succession is muddy, so the man who's been in power in everything but name now assumes it for real despite not being a blood relative. But the reason Godunov's path to power was clear is that the immediate heir, Dmitry, died at the age of 7, and Godunov is suspected if having had a part in it. (Apparently history views this as unlikely, but for Pushkin's purposes he's guilty.)
I find Hutchinson quite a broad performer, and his attempts to laugh off Godunov's early bloodthirsty rants neither succeeded in getting laughs from the mugging, nor really set the Tsar up as a tragic villain in the Shakespearean mould. I think the play itself is partly to blame as it spends less time on the title character than it does with his charismatic rival (having grown up in a monastery, we've seen Grigory long for something less "safe" and predictable, so we feel like we understand his reckless nature better,) but as both the rebellion and his own bad health close in on Boris, I was wishing for the doom-laden intensity of a Richard III or Macbeth seeing their end approach, and not quite getting it. Boyd elects to play this scene oddly understated, which doesn't help.
Overall I found Boyd's production better at the storytelling than the emotional side. The story's machinations kept me interested, but I never felt too invested in the characters, or in who gets to be Tsar in the end (both Hutchinson and Anthony can be rather shouty at times.) I'm glad I caught the Russian classic that I'd previously known nothing of bar the title until now; the production as a whole isn't great, but it is Godunov for me (ba-dum-tish.)
Boris Godunov by Alexander Pushkin in a version by Adrian Mitchell is booking in repertory until the 30th of March at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Running time: 2 hours straight through
1however the long advance periods the company works in means despite Gregory Doran having been in the top job for a couple of months now, we'll still be seeing work programmed by Boyd for almost another year