Search

Theatre review: Richard II at the Barbican

PUBLISHED: 11:58 19 December 2013 | UPDATED: 11:58 19 December 2013

Richard II at the Barbican

Richard II at the Barbican

Archant

RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran’s production of Richard 11 is exquisitely beautiful. It’s also detailed and luminous in its interpretation.

RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran’s production of Richard 11 is exquisitely beautiful. It’s also detailed and luminous in its interpretation.

Deposition, succession and political opportunism ring out with a timely clarity in our politically compromised, recession-driven times.

David Tennant as Richard 11 is outstanding. The child-king grown-up must resolve the conflict between his cousin Bolingbroke [Nigel Lindsay], who accuses Mowbray [Antony Byrne] of murdering the king’s uncle - the Duke of Gloucester. Rather than trouble himself with the truth, Richard banishes both: a fatal error as Bolingbroke returns to depose him to become Henry 1V. With his jaw titled skywards, his elegant stance unyielding, Tennant skillfully suppresses that quicksilver energy [channeled to such tremendous effect in his Hamlet] while keeping his watchful eyes on the game. Febrile, effeminate but not camp, his lute-like voice is frighteningly controlled. This is a court where image and carapace is everything. Richard’s overspending on the arts and his self-proclaimed majesty reveal a vanity that is evident in the celestial sopranos who herald his appearances. Mirror motifs abound: the golden gossamer that hangs from the vaulted ceilings of Westminster Palace reflects and refracts his self-absorption and paranoia. When Tennant descends on an impressive metal balcony, a huge projection of the sun behind him, Bolingbroke must shield his eyes.

There’s the expected Christ-like imagery: Richard in his white robes, shoes off, a wig so abundant that its progression from luxurious to bedraggled provides its own clear narrative of status-decline. But Tennant does not overplay the allusions to Christ and his Richard is all the better for it.

Sterling performances from RSC veterans make this much more than a star-turn. Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt is impressive and his sceptred isle speech is raw and fine. Oliver Ford Davies imbues the irritable pragmatist Duke of York with a sly comedy which energises a second half not strong on plot. Lindsay’s Bolingbroke is a stocky, thuggish incarnation that provides an interesting foil to Richard. The climactic scene is muddied. When Richard emerges out of a trap door into his green-glass prison the staging swamps the poetry. Otherwise an exhilarating evening.

*****


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Islington Gazette. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Most Read

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Most Read

Latest from the Islington Gazette