By William Shakespeare
Directed by Simon Godwin
Designed by Paul Willis
Composer Stephen Warbeck
Sunday 27th September 2015, 13.00
King Richard II – Charles Edwards
Queen Isabel – Anneika Rose
Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, later Henry IV – David Sturzaker
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, uncle to the king- William Gaunt
Duke of York, uncle to the king -William Chubb
Duchess of York – Sarah Woodward
Aumerle, son of Duke of York – Graham Butler
Duchess of Gloucester – Sasha Waddell
Mowbray + Welsh captain + Carlisle – Oliver Boot
Duke of Northumberland – Jonny Glynn
Salisbury + keeper- Henry Everett
Ross – Ekow Quartey
Bushy + Abbot + servant – Greg Haiste
Green + gardener’s man + servant – Arthur Wilson
Exton + gardener+ archbishop – Richard Katz
Bagot + groom – Angus Imrie
Ensemble: Luke Dunford, Kate Malyon, Joshua Mason Wood, Anthony Pinnick
The Globe has been transformed with additional staging in the shape of a cross, the pillars have been wrapped in gold, the back of the set is gold, the floor is gold. The ‘white hart’ banners of Richard II are flying … he was the first English king to get his followers wearing a badge, which the production follows. The cross shaped forestage really thrusts the action to the edge of the pit, and Richard uses that to stand isolated in scenes. It also leaves a line of groundlings either side, who look as if they’re in a World War One trench. Richard II is playing with Nell Gwynne and (until this week) Measure for Measure, which requires a great deal of stage changing rather than set changing too. That might account for the 1 p.m. start rather than 1.15 or 1.30, for which we’re grateful. It ended at 15.45 which got us through London traffic before the main rush hour.
Richard II (Charles Edwards)
The play opens with an added coronation of the ten year old Richard with the Archbishop doing lines, presumably from the coronation ceremony. As the coronation ends, the boy king leaves the throne and walks off, and the adult Richard (Charles Edwards) walks on in the same white robes and takes his place. Magnificent. Even better was that gold metallic confetti showers the stage and audience and in an unprecedented piece of theatre, the real sun broke from behind a cloud right at that point and bathed the entire scene in bright September sunlight. Magic? Cloud seeding? Sadly, just happy coincidence. One review complains about the Globe custom of adding elaborate visual beginnings, but play texts would not have listed tableaux, popular in Elizabethan England, and I like these big beginnings. They suit the space and the large crowds at The Globe.
The same review criticized the amount of comedy. Again it suits the space, though there’s precious little intrinsic humour in Richard II, which normally relies on unusual line readings and weightings by King Richard himself The gardeners scene is the normal shoehorned in scene in a tragedy … the Macbeth porter, Hamlet gravediggers. I’ll note that the original title is The Tragedy of King Richard II not ‘the history.’ They do it very well with one gardener being sent up a ladder to trim the apricot tree in the middle gallery, right by us. He leaned in and whispered ‘It’s a metaphor’ to those of us right by it. The other laughs involve audience interaction … the other gardener threatening to cut a girl’s long hair. Richard reaching out a hand for comfort from an audience member. And they really go for comedy in the scene with the Duke of Aumery and his parents, the Duke and Duchess of York, chasing the Duke of York’s boots around the stage. It’s the right way to do it. The play was written for the public theatre. I’ve quoted this in my reviews before, but as my drama tutor used to say (almost as often as I do), if the ‘To be or not to be speech’ was making the groundlings restless, they’d have sent on a dancing bear to cheer things up.
Richard II (Charles Edwards) and Bolingbroke (David Sturzaker)
Comparison is unavoidable, with David Tennant at the RSC in 2013, about to return to the Barbican as this ends, with the tetralogy (advertised in the programme), and Ben Whishaw on TV in The Hollow Crown. I’m not awarding points, and I liked Charles Edwards’ interpretation … less fey, less mad perhaps, less gay perhaps, but with excellent reactive looks. He looks more rugged than the others, and Bolingbroke is not beefy either, leaving the men physically matched rather than a physically-dominating Bolingbroke. You do miss David Tennant’s hairpieces and long nails though … this Richard’s hair is too conventional perhaps. He does get a scene looking at fabric patterns earlier, but there’s no kissing courtiers. Bolingbroke (David Sturzaker) is always a remote part, because Shakespeare never gives him speeches to explain his motivation and intent. Does he just want to be king? Probably from the outset.
John of Gaunt (William Gaunt): “that” speech
John of Gaunt is played by William Gaunt, and it would be nice to think he was a descendant. It gives the line ‘This old Gaunt’ extra weight, and he is heavily aged for that speech. The most famous speech in the play. We have that speech in the RSC framed version with the words in the shape of Britain hanging in the loo. This royal throne of kings seemed appropriate to the location. William Gaunt weighted it differently, with superb interpretation and pausing.
The duel scene
The duel scene is outstanding in this production and here the cross stage helps, with Mowbray and Bolingbroke on the arms. Richard sometimes on the forward extension, sometimes back. They do a complete change into armour with lances for the actual duel which Richard stops, and then banishes them. This is the accurate part of Shakespeare’s telling of the story, and the duel was set for months after the quarrel.
The deaths of Bushey and Green are the main evidence that Richard was in a homosexual relationship with his sycophants, as Bolingbroke addresses them:
You have misled a prince, a royal king
A happy gentleman in blood and lineaments
By you unhappied and disfigured clean
You have in manner with your sinful hours
Made a divorce betwixt his queen and him
Broke the possession of a royal bed
And stained the beauty of a fair queen’s cheeks
With tears drawn from her eyes by your foul wrongs
The female roles are not great in the play, that’s intrinsic, though Anneika Rose was a fine Queen Isabel, she lacked regality because she looked s young. The only decent part is the Duchess of York which Sarah Woodward played, and she was very funny in the scene with the Duke of York (William Chubb) and Aumerle (Graham Butler).
Richard’s final speeches were, I’m sure, heavily cut. He talks about his favourite horse carrying Bolingbroke on his coronation as Henry IV. The ten year old Richard II carries a toy horse at his coronation, and in a “Rosebud” moment (Citizen Kane) Richard holds the toy horse at the end. Incidentally, in reality it’s said Richard was starved to death, possibly in an oubliette, because no one wanted the sin of regicide by overt deed. Anyway, Aumery does it with a knife and in a welcome change from last year’s blood-drenched stages at the Globe there is only a little blood.
The ending and curtain call is another new way of doing it, with the five trombonists in a V-formation, holding the cast behind them. Rightly I think, the individual bows at the climax are John of Gaunt, then Bolingbroke then Richard.
Usual high standard. You must have family trees for history plays, and you get one.
IN DEFENCE OF THE GLOBE …
Dominic Cavendish on the Daily Telegraph heads his review as “A production for tourists” and ends:
But this production is more suited, I suspect, to postcard-scribbling tourists who want a rough feel for the space and the play than those who prefer every jewel in the play’s crown to be polished and perfectly set.
How snotty and up yourself is that? Blog writers know how many people actually look at reviews. The Globe gets far and away the largest number of hits here, followed by plays which the NT and RSC later broadcast live to cinemas. Why? Because they’re accessible. People can envisage actually seeing the play. When I review (say) the Menier Chocolate Factory, you get very few readers, because tickets are long sold out. You have no chance of seeing it. That never seems to be a consideration for national newspapers.
There is of course a tourism aspect at both The Globe and the RSC in Stratford. A few leave at the interval, as did the Indian gentleman at Measure for Measure (my second viewing) earlier in the same week. He also thought it acceptable to stand up in the front row of the gallery to video the performance on his Smartphone (he was told to sit and put it away). But there are also foreign students and foreign English teachers clutching well-thumbed heavily annotated copies of the play, or the Canadians we spoke to once who’d planned their trip to the UK to take in two at Stratford and two at the Globe. So they’re “tourists”? Great. I hope they enjoy it. I was really irritated at the review. Which other theatre has that many young people in the audience? Yes, it does mean you play larger in this space than you do in the (e.g.) Donmar Warehouse. And so would Shakespeare have done.
Richard II, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford with David Tennant as Richard II
Nell Gwynn, Globe – several of the cast are in both Nell Gwynn and Richard II