Posts Tagged ‘Richard II’

We seem to be going through a phase of filleting and re-ordering Shakespeare’s plays. The Donmar gave us a shortened Measure for Measure, twice in one evening, with gender swops between them. The National’s Anthony & Cleopatra started as it ended. Now the Almeida’s Richard II has lost an hour and nine characters and also brings forward a later scene. Somewhat ironically, this hyper-radical interpretation returns to Shakespeare’s original title. What comes out the other end is a frantic portrait of a country falling apart; not too difficult to identify with that at the moment. Shakespeare purists probably won’t like it; I found it bold, but not without its faults.

Eight actors play the thirteen characters remaining, in a large metal box, designed by ULTZ with excellent lighting by James Farncombe. in contemporary casual clothes. It’s somewhat manic in style, with fast speech and rapid movement and exaggerated gestures. Buckets of water, blood and soil (amusingly, labelled) get poured over characters and more gauntlets get thrown down in anger and challenge than you’re likely to have seen in your entire Shakespeare playgoing experience. There’s not a lot of subtlety, characterisations are weakened, verse loses beauty and the narrative of the play suffers……but it is a gripping 100 unbroken minutes and you can’t take your eyes off the stage.

The cast, led superbly by Simon Russell Beale as Richard, are uniformly excellent, but I didn’t feel Joe Hill-Gibbins production allowed them to get under the skin of their characters and reveal their psychological depth and motivation. I see Richard II as an introverted, introspective king who didn’t want to be king, uncomfortable with power, as most productions convey, and this didn’t come over here. Though I respect and admire the audacity and creativity, I didn’t find it entirely satisfying. It was a bit like watching the Tory party tearing itself and the country apart, and I’d done that before I got to the theatre that day, and indeed every other day at the moment.

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Chimerica – Lucy Kirkwood’s play takes an historical starting point for a very contemporary debate on an epic scale at the Almeida

Jumpers for Goalposts – Tom Wells’ warm-hearted play had me laughing and crying simultaneously for the first time ever – Paines Plough at Watford Palace and the Bush Theatre

Handbagged – with HMQ and just one PM, Moira Buffini’s 2010 playlet expanded to bring more depth and more laughs than The Audience (Tricycle Theatre)

Gutted – Rikki Beale-Blair’s ambitious, brave, sprawling, epic, passionate family saga at the people’s theatre, Stratford East

Di & Viv & Rose – Amelia Bullimore’s delightful exploration of human friendship at Hampstead Theatre

Honourable mentions to the Young Vic’s Season in the Congo and NTS’ Let the Right One In at the Royal Court


2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar and James McAvoy’s Macbeth for Jamie Lloyd Productions were both raw, visceral, physical & thrilling interpretations. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello at the NT. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V for Michael Grandage Company and the RSC’s Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They all enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them.


Mies Julie – Strindberg in South Africa, tense and riveting, brilliantly acted (Riverside)

Edward II – a superb contemporary staging which illuminated this 400-year-old Marlowe play at the NT

Rutherford & Son – Northern Broadsides in an underated 100-year-old northern play visiting Kingston

Amen Corner – The NT director designate’s very musical staging of this 1950’s Black American play

The Pride – speedy revival but justified and timely, and one of many highlights of the Jamie Lloyd season

London Wall & Laburnam Grove – not one, but two early 20th century plays that came alive at the tiny Finborough Theatre

Honorable mentions for To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air, Beautiful Thing at the Arts, Fences in the West End, Purple Heart – early Bruce (Clybourne Park) Norris – at the Gate and The EL Train at Hoxton Hall, where the Eugene O’Neill experience included the venue.

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Well, I managed a full house this week – six plays (though I have to confess I didn’t make it through to the end with two of them – but only one for reasons of an enjoyment nature). The weather was a bit better, but only a bit; less rain, but still oh so cold.

We got off to a cracking start with the Korean A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With wonderful make-up and costumes, this very athletic show dumped the rude mechanicals and focused entirely on the main story. Puck was twins and Bottom turned into a pig rather than a donkey. It may not have pleased the purists, but it was completely in the spirit of Will’s play and a joy from start to finish. The actors of Yohangza company came into the foyers for photos and meet &  greet so we were able to thank them for coming.

I had high hopes of Julius Caesar ‘coming home’ to an Italian company. Sadly, in the hands of a seemingly avant-garde director, we got a static, slow, dull and irritating interpretation. There was a lot of stuff with mobile doors and other directorial conceits and even if you told me they were offering free Chianti in the second half, I still couldn’t have been persuaded to return.

The world’s newest country, South Sudan, with the help of the British Council, were very brave to tackle Cymbeline. It wasn’t as refined as much of what had gone before or will no doubt will follow, but it was quite possibly the true spirit of this festival and thoroughly enjoyable. The actors had real presence, projected brilliantly, with superb audience contact and their excitement at being part of it all was infectious. The play ends in peace and one can only hope these people find peace, despite this week’s news stories. Lovely.

When Titus Andronicus started, we were confronted with the actors from Hong Kong company Tang Shu-Wing sitting on chairs in an arc, dressed in white, grey or black depending on their ‘allegiance’. The first two acts were presented as a summary, lasting less than 30  minutes, as they spoke and struck poses with no interaction. Just as I was thinking  ‘it’ll be over in an hour’, they revert to more normal staging for the ‘meat’ of the play (sorry!). The acting was absolutely brilliant and I was captivated for the rest of this most bloodthirsty of plays. Despite the body count, there was no blood (or onstage baking!) but the tale of revenge was brilliantly told.

Richard II was presented by Palestine company Ashtar Theatre. It was a tense, angry and passionate production, with Richard as a charismatic manic rather than an introvert. The English names interspersed with the Arabic dialogue (blah blah blah Mowbray blah blah Ireland blah blah blah) brought a smile to my face. The uprising of five, entering through the audience waving flags, faces covered with scarves, was surprisingly effective and the staging of the negotiations was light-hearted but very clever. I was enjoying it very much, but sadly by now too exhausted to see it through to the end.

The week ended with Othello: The Remix, a Hip Hop story (rather than Shakespeare’s play as such) from Chicago’s Q Brothers. The theatre was packed and the average age had reduced by decades. The four actors rapped virtually the whole thing in 75 minutes, with the help of a DJ of course, dumping all but the eight main characters. It was largely played for laughs, yet the story was intact, and you couldn’t hear a pin drop when Desdemona was dying. Othello was the king of Hip Hop and Desdemona was a singer (represented here just by her recorded voice) and it all happens when they’re on tour. I would have liked to have got more of the clever verse – the amplification, background sounds and street style vocal buried a lot of it – but it was a quartet of four virtuoso performances and a real buzz in the house. Somehow, I think Will (and Sam) would have been thrilled.

Now it’s time for the Europeans, so far eclipsed by the Asian Antipodean African & American visitors, to raise their game. Come on Poland; give us a Macbeth to be proud of !

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