Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Simon Goodwin
Designer: Paul Wills
Composer: Stephen Warbeck
Reviewer: Cavelle Leigh
Set in the Elizabethan era, Richard II, the first of four plays in a tetralogy about the House of Lancaster tells the story of the protagonist’s downfall in the latter years of his life. It begins with the young Richard’s coronation, a scene not actually Shakespeare’s, when it was hoped, nay assumed that as King by divine right, he would, of course, emerge a just King, a fair King, one of virtue. Little did they know… Years later said sumptuously dressed King (theatrical Charles Edwards) appears not to have moved from his throne, where he presides over a heated exchange betwixt his cousin Bolingbroke (angered David Sturzaker) who accuses Thomas Mowbray (defiant Oliver Boot) of embezzlement and the murder of their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester.
Due to his inherent indecisiveness and inability to lead, Richard is unable to mediate their dispute and so the situation descends into a duel, though one cut short before it has started as the fickle King then decides to banish them from his country; Mowbray indefinitely, Bolingbroke for six years. Already proving himself an unfit monarch, matters are made worse when following the death of Bolingbroke’s frail father (William Gaunt), Richard seizes his estate, bequeathed to Bolingbroke, to finance a war in Ireland. Thinking himself untouchable ‘Am I not King?’, Richard is blissfully unaware at first that the wronged Bolingbroke has caught wind of this news and intends to return to England to vengefully reclaim what is his and then some. Most of Richards aides, if not killed, defect to Bolingbroke’s side exept his most loyal, perhaps blindly so, nobleman (and cousin), Aumerle (Graham Butler). On his return however, Richards crown begins to slip as fear and panic takes hold (and in Aumerles case, slight hysteria) ‘ …now the blood of twenty thousand men, Did triumph in my face and they are fled; And, till so much blood thither come again, Have I not reason to look pale and dead?’
Bolingbroke has soon not only conquered his land, but defeated Richard to the throne to become Henry IV. Narcissism aside, the now broken Richard here delivers quite poignant prolonged monologues where he seems to question his own existence as both King and mere mortal. The idea of this broken man symbolised as he shatters a mirror image of himself on the floor, himself ‘cracked in a hundred shivers.’ is powerful if not typical of Richard’s penchant for dramatics and self pity.
Bolingbroke on the other hand takes action as King. He forgives an attempt on his life by Aumerle, his cousin also. The funniest quite maniacal scenes, are when the the Duke of York (William Chubb) reveals his sons treacherous plans to Bolingbroke who spares Aumerle only due to the intervention of his mother the Duchess of York (Sarah Woodward). However he simply cannot forgive nobleman (Richard Katz) Exton who in a misjudged attempt to please him, kills Richard while he is imprisoned. Whatever the underlying motives, if any, of his actions, Bolingbroke swears he is not nor will ever be a murderer and so the play ends, solemnly with him vowing to visit Jerusalum to expiate such sin. As with Richard, he unwittingly begins his reign with blood on his hands, the fallout of which will haunt him throughout. For all their political differences, the play had come full circle, with both Kings beset with bloody tragedy.
Though it waits until the second act to really gain pace, with some earlier scenes slightly drawn out, this production does not deviate from the traditional in its set, costume and overall direction, nor need it when the actors and chemistry between them is flawless.
Runs until: Sunday 18th October 2015 | PhotoJohan Persson