Monday, 24 August 2015

'Richard II' at Shakespeare's Globe

Last week we went to see 'Richard II' at The Globe and luckily the rain held off but there was still the inevitable helicopter sweeping low and drowning out some of the speeches. I've not seen 'Richard II' before so it was nice to finally see it and see it at The Globe.

It opens with priests coming on stage as the audience is still arriving, swinging incense and lighting candles ready for the coronoation of the boy-king Richard who soon leaves the stage to be replaced by the man-king. Richard is the annointed of God, the rightful heir and ruler of England. He doesn't have to fight for the throne, it's his by right, and that's how he rules. He gets whatever he wants and that turns him into a spoilt brat and not a very nice person. He has his sycophants that crawl around him and he has his ardent followers. Two of these, Mowbray and Bolingbroke accuse each other of treason and seek their king's permission to duel and bare the proof of their accusations on their bodies. The king refuses and exiles both of them.

Shortly afterwards, John of Gaunt, one of the king's advisers and uncles (and Bolingbroke's father) falls ill and dies, and the king takes all his lands and possessions to fund a new campaign against those pesky Irish. As the king leaves so does Bolingbroke re-appear demanding his inheritance and birth-right and gathers the nobles to his cause and against the king and so the king is overthrown and Bolingbroke takes the crown and becomes Henry IV. Richard is imprisoned and, hearing Henry say he wishes his problems would go away, he is slain in prison in a final fight. Henry rebukes the lords who did this but the scene is set for his own tragedy.

It's quite fast paced and zips along from scene to scene and the narrative is easy to follow as we see Richard come to more fervently believe in his own divine right to rule and his decisions becoming more erratic and hurtful to those he should love so that even the uncle of his queen sides with Bolingbroke. He floats round the stage in his long, flowing white and golden robes marking him out a s creature distinct from the soldiers and courtiers and towards the end his robes become greyer and less graceful. We're witnessing the downfall of a king. He's pragmatic enough - and not at all stupid - to be able to see the end coming but doesn't know what to do. How do you fend off a rebellion when you have no army?

It's a really good production of the kind I've come to expect from the Globe and once again the stage has been changed to make it unique to this production. I loved the burnished gold of the walls and columns, all very regal and other worldly. The costumes were great and I loved the minimalist brass band that came on every now and then for a quick blast. Charles Edwards was great as Richard, careless and carefree and knowing his every whim will be catered to until the end.David Sturzaker was arresting as Bolingbroke, grabbing every eye when he was on stage, just as he did with his charm in 'Merchant of Venice' earlier this year. I will also give a shout out to William Gaunt as John of Gaunt - William used to a Champion in the 1960s and still retains his mesmerising powers. He gets the most beautiful speech when, on his deathbed, he prophesies the end to the dream of the glories of Olde England when he talks about:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

It fair brings a lump to the throat - that wily old poet knew what he was doing with those words.

There is some lovely poetry in this play but, for me, some of it was missed by the over-long speeches, particularly by Richard. Sometimes less is more. But it's a grand production so go along and see it if you can.

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