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Richard II at RSC Stratford Review

David Tennant stars as the bad king Richard II

David Tennant as Richard II at the RSC
David Tennant as Richard II at the RSC

FIVE years after runaway success Hamlet, David Tennant and director Gregory Doran have reunited for another spellbinding RSC performance; Richard II.

Striding onto stage in period dress and long flowing locks, Tennant epitomises the bad king’s haughty indifference and disregard for his fellow man, surrounded by simpering sycophants.

At its heart, this story is a battle for the throne which pitches the weak and effete king against his thuggish soldier cousin, Henry Bolingbroke.

It’s a performance that grows as Richard’s grip of the crown diminishes, until he finally realises the true worth of royalty; when it’s too late.

Opening with the funeral of the Duke of Gloucester, Bolingbroke (Nigel Lindsay) accuses nobleman Mowbray of being responsible for the death and challenges him to a duel.

Richard, keen not to have the death looked into too closely, banishes Mowbray from his kingdom permanently while Bolingbroke is exiled for six years. The king’s first mistake.

Bolingbroke’s father then dies and Richard callously swoops in to seize his land to pay for his war with Ireland.

But while the king is fighting abroad, Bolingbroke is plotting.

When Richard finally returns his enemy confronts him and demands his land and the crown.

Here we see Richard’s petulance quiver as he succumbs to panic and despair at losing his throne.

Yet even in his defeat he won’t be bowed and there is a spine-tingling tense moment where he holds out the throne for Bolingbroke and beckons him, like calling a dog, to “seize” it.

Lindsay’s unsympathetic sneering Bolingbroke casts the unpopular king in a more sympathetic light.

Thrown into prison in the castle of Pomfret, Doran chooses to have the last person he sees Richard’s only confidante and, if he were capable of having one, friend, Aumerle (Oliver Rix).

After sharing a quick sexually-charged kiss, Aumerle had attempted to raise a rebellion to overthrow the new king but was prevented by his own father, the world weary Duke of York, (Oliver Ford Davies).

And in this version it is Aumerle (not Exton) who plunges the dagger into Richard, ending his life.

Set within cavernous Medieval-like halls, with a trio of sopranos and blaring trumpets and a sophisticated mechanical set, the RSC’s Richard II is a spectacle not to be missed.

Richard II is on in Stratford-Upon-Avon until November 16 with a special screening live in cinemas on November 13.

 

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