I have seen this production twice. The first time, about 2 years ago, I sat rather far back and to the right of the stage but last night I sat in the 6th row and to the left. Both starred the amazing and to my eye and ear, the best interpreter of this at first frivolous and later deposed and murdered King. Before we get to the specifics of last night’s performance, however, I want to let you know that it was the first of the four so-called “history plays” of William Shakespeare to be performed over 3 days, Richard II last night, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 this afternoon and evening and Henry V tomorrow evening, a sort of Shakespeare marathon! The plays are performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company based in the Bard’s hometown of Stratford upon Avon but for this cycle performed at the Barbican Theater here in London.
Now to Richard II and last night’s performance. Staged with rather minimalist but never the less very effective lighting, props, costumes and music the individual actors’ performances were superb. First and foremost was the amazing and magnificent David Tennant as Richard of Bordeau or Richard II, who inherited the crown at age 10 upon the death of his Grandfather Edward III, Richard’s own father, Edward “The Black Prince” having already pre-deceased his son. The height of Richard’s rule was perhaps his heroic demonstration of his kingly status when at age 14 he ended the Peasant’s Revolt. Later he was given to ostentation and mis-rule under the dominion of some of lesser rank whom he raised to positions of high importance thereby incurring the wrath of some of his noblemen. His banishment of Henry Bolingbroke, and confiscation of the lands and goods of Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, led to Henry’s eventual overthrow of Richard and usurpation of his kingly crown. The psychological conflicts of Richard from frivolity and excess to despair and desolation are explored in detail in Shakespeare’s recreation of these dramatic events and brought to life in the amazing and moving interpretation of Richard II by David Tennant. He is ably supported by a superb cast both male and female, perhaps most notably by Oliver Ford Davies as Richard’s uncle Edmund of Langley, Duke of York and Julian Glover as John of Gaunt. A superb performance all around.