Theatre review: Richard II, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

4.00

Another crowning glory for David Tennant and his majestic accomplice Gregory Doran

They covered themselves in glory five years ago with Hamlet; now David Tennant and Gregory Doran join forces again for this lucid and gripping account of Richard II. Having played the most intellectually searching of Shakespeare’s protagonists, who is painfully miscast as a revenge hero, Tennant – in splendid form here – trains his talents on the most self-absorbed and inward-looking of the Bard’s monarchs, who is fatally miscast as God’s anointed deputy on earth.

In his gorgeous, gold-embroidered robes (and long, flowing hair extensions, to boot), this Richard is wrapped in the mystique of medieval majesty. But he occupies the Gothic throne with a slouch of disgruntlement, his features congealed in disdain. Admirably resisting any temptation to make the king likeable, Tennant vividly exudes the bored irritability that erupts in tyrannical caprice. And impatience is making him reckless, too. In this production, he brazenly hears the dispute between Bolingbroke and Mowbray at the (interpolated) ceremonial lying-in-state of the Duke of Gloucester, whose murky murder (and, implicitly, Richard’s involvement in it) is itself the bone of contention.

But then Richard is a monarch who would always choose theatrical effect over political prudence. With his great gift for playfulness, Tennant runs heavily sarcastic rings round his usurper in the deposition scene. Holding the crown at arm’s length, and with his back to the assembled company, he calls out “Here cousin”, in the tones of someone inviting a dog to play fetch. This is not a Richard who luxuriates in the lyricism of grief. Tennant delivers the plaintive, self-pitying arias with a scathing irony for the most part, flecked by tiny surrenders to abject panic – as though he were at once sufferer and observer of the tragic process whereby, when the royal persona shatters, it exposes the naked, insecure person underneath. 

By contrast, Nigel Lindsay’s Bolingbroke presents himself as a plain-speaking bloke who has returned from exile solely to claim his rightful inheritance – though there’s a suggestion in his hooded watchfulness and the brutality with which he dispatches Richard’s flatterers that he has a devious, long-term strategy. He plays his cards close to his chest and is embarrassed by Richard, whose upstaging antics leave him having to force face-saving laughter in front of his followers.

Interestingly, though, Doran is more interested in the king’s relationship with his other cousin, the young Aumerle. I should perhaps issue a spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph. This production gives the pair a charged, private sequence on the walls of Flint Castle (evoked by the mobile gantry that slices across Stephen Brimson Lewis’s excellent design). The monarch’s speech of speculative capitulation (“What must the King do now? Must he submit?”) reduces his devoted number one supporter to such heartfelt, quiet tears that Tennant’s Richard is touched to a moment of rare compassion for another creature – treating his cousin to a tenderly passionate kiss and a cradling on his breast. But Aumerle, whose riven emotional state is beautifully conveyed by Oliver Rix, turns into the production’s most extreme casualty of the world of divided loyalties. Shopped to the new king by his own father for his treacherous plots, to what desperate lengths might such a man go to prove that he’s been born again politically? 

There isn’t a weak link in the cast. Ferocious eloquence overcomes deathbed infirmity in Michael Pennington’s superb portrayal of John of Gaunt, and Oliver Ford Davies gives a fine edge of grumpy comedy to the Duke of York’s conscience-stricken dithering. Another palpable hit for the Tennant/Doran collaboration, the production transfers to the Barbican in December and will be broadcast live in cinemas on 13 November.

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?