Superb theatre

2014-01-22 00:00

Review: Richard II

Cinema Nouveau, Gateway

RICHARD II was not a great king of England.

A grandson of Edward III and son of Edward the Black Prince, he became king at the tender age of 10 and believed himself God’s annointed ruler.

David Tennant (Doctor Who) plays the title role in Shakespeare’s history play, something he has wanted to do since seeing Derek Jacobi in a touring production of Richard II when he was a drama student in Scotland.

It’s Tennant’s fourth season with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), having previously appeared in its productions of As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet.

His Richard is no romantic medieval hero, but rather a complex, conflicted man.

He is a man badly advised by courtiers, and believes that God will send armies of angels to support him in a war against his enemies.

His rule has been characterised by uprisings among the nobility and the poor, and many at court believe him to be the man behind the murder of his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester.

It’s at this pivotal moment that the play opens. Haunting song echoes around the theatre as a black-clad figure — the Duchess of Gloucester (Jane Lapotaire) — weeps over a coffin.

Her husband is dead and two men — Henry Bolingbroke, the king’s cousin, played by Nigel Lindsay, and Thomas de Mowbray, first Duke of Norfolk (Antony Byrne) — have each accused the other of treason and involvement in his murder.

Richard initially agrees to let them fight it out in a duel, only to withdraw his permission seconds before they are set to start.

He banishes both men from the kingdom and in doing so sets himself against Bolingbroke’s father, the powerful John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (Michael Pennington), who rages against his corrupt nephew.

Richard is untroubled by his accusations and when John of Gaunt dies, happily seizes his uncle’s property to fund a campaign of war in Ireland.

With Richard away and his uncle, the Duke of York (Marty Cruickshank) in charge, Bolingbroke returns to England with an army to fight for his inheritance. He soon overuns the country, convinces York to side with him and gets the support of the common folk. Richard is isolated and left with no choice but to agree to Bolingbroke’s demands — including renouncing his throne.

But as many an English monarch has found, having a living rival for your throne has a habit of causing problems.

A plot is uncovered to free Richard from his prison at Pomfret Castle and to restore him to the throne.

Among those involved is the Duke of Aurmerle (Oliver Rix), son of the Duke of York. Urged on by his mother, Aurmerle pleads for forgiveness and is duly pardoned by Bolingbroke, now Henry IV.

Desperate to show his loyalty to the new king, Aurmerle joins a band of assassins who have decided that the only solution is to kill Richard.

The action in the RSC’s artistic director Gregory Doran’s production is unrelenting, with each line delivered with passion. Tennant may be the star draw, but the entire cast deliver performances that are quite simply riveting to watch. The actors are supported by an innovative and disarmingly simple set and lighting design, created by Stephen Brimson Lewis and Tim Mitchell, which allows the audience to be inside a cathedral, on the shores of an English beach, standing on an empty moor, or standing inside rooms in medieval castles.

The costumes are sumptuous and in the duel scene between Bolingbroke and Norfolk, the two men are in full suits of armour and wielding huge swords. Richard II has been critically acclaimed in the United Kingdom and rightly so. It is, quite simply, a superb theatrical work and one you simply cannot afford to miss.


RICHARD II, the first in a series of RSC productions to be filmed in its new Live from Straford-Upon-Avon series, is being screened at Cinema Nouveau Gateway in Umhlanga on Saturday and Sunday, and on January 29 and January 30.

Over the next year, three more productions will be broadcast: Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part II and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Gregory Doran will direct Henry IV Parts I and II, with South African-born Antony Sher playing the infamous knight Falstaff, alongside Jasper Britton as Henry IV, Alex Hassell as Prince Hal and Paola Dionisotti as Mistress Quickly. The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare’s exuberant early romantic comedy about friendship and betrayal, will be directed by Simon Godwin.

To book tickets, visit: www.cine or the mobi-site www.ster­ or phone Ticketline at 082 16789.

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