Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Theatre review: Richard II (Shakespeare's Globe)

Back to the Globe for the second night in a row, and right back to the beginning of the octet that ends with Richard III. In fact I can now say I've seen all of Shakespeare's Histories at this venue, now that Richard II has been added to the list. Charles Edwards plays King Richard, who was crowned as a child - in fact Simon Godwin's production opens with the additional scene of the young Richard's (Thomas Ashdown or Frederick Neilson) coronation. On a golden throne on a golden stage, he's showered with golden confetti that'll probably be stuck in the theatre's nooks and crannies for years to come (I know from groundlings that it's been stuck in their nooks and crannies for a while.) All this bling is in honour of a king who's grown up with the certain knowledge that his power is god-given, and who behaves accordingly. But when he banishes and disinherits his cousin Bolingbroke (David Sturzaker,) he finds that he's pushed the wrong man around.

With Richard distracted by a military campaign in Ireland, Bolingbroke returns to England to mount a rebellion. At first he says he just wants his own lands back, but as support for the weakened king vanishes, he sets his eyes on the throne.


After making his Shakespearean directing debut last year with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Godwin once again approaches the play with a fresh eye, although in this instance the different treatment of the lead character, at least, didn't work for me. Edwards is a great actor but he's miscast here: Not only does he seem too old for the part, his character seems too mature as well, lacking in eccentricities, vulnerability and caprice. Although he obviously enjoys the pomp and circumstance of his role, this Richard's mistakes come from a misplaced pragmatism rather than a belief that the country is his plaything. The way the opening is staged made me think we were going to see the king as a man-child who never really left behind the boy he was when he was crowned, because he never had to; but ultimately he seems borderline competent, and not as great a contrast with Bolingbroke as usual.


It's left to Richard's twinky coterie of Bushy (Greg Haiste,) Green (Arthur Wilson) and Bagot (Angus Imrie*) to provide both the play's homoeroticism and the suggestion that the king's really not choosing his advisors for the right reasons. In common with the last RSC production, Godwin expands the role of Graham Butler's Aumerle to make him Richard's eventual killer, making Aumerle's progress through the play one of the most interesting subplots, and I did end up wishing - especially in light of his performances as Henry VI here a couple of years ago - that he had been in the lead role instead.


Aumerle is also at the centre of a couple of the play's weird lurches into comedy in its latter acts - the throwing down of gauntlets and his parents' (William Chubb and Sarah Woodward) opposing suits to Henry IV to take** or spare his life. These are handled with a lot of energy and taking on the opportunities of the Globe's design to draw the groundlings into the action - as is the post-interval opener of two gardeners (Wilson and Richard Katz) accidentally informing the Queen (Anneika Rose) of her husband's overthrow. On the opposite end of the scale, William Gaunt finally gets to play his namesake John of Gaunt, delivering an understated and moving "this sceptred isle" speech. In fact there's a lot to enjoy about this Richard II, the only real disappointment - but a significant one - being that faced with one of Shakespeare's most eccentric kings, who's open to all sorts of inventive interpretation, Godwin and Edwards haven't really found a personality for him.

Richard II by William Shakespeare is booking in repertory until the 18th of October at Shakespeare's Globe.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes including interval.

*who neither has big comedy boobs nor distributed cake to the audience, so I guess he doesn't take after his mother. Phill pointed out that he does have her face but, you know. Not in a Hannibal Lecter way.

**the Duke of York's insistence on execution for anyone, even his own son, who rebels against the anointed king is really a bit rich given his crucial role in a rebellion against the anointed king a couple of acts earlier

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