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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
RICHARD II
at Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

THE HOLLOW CROWN
By ROBERT GORE-LANGTON

  Nigel Lindsay and David Tennant/ Ph: Kwame Lestrade

The Royal Shakespeare is under new management and boasting a strong, even starry, cast, led here by David Tennant, who cut his teeth with the company and is now a major box office draw thanks to his stint playing Dr Who (in the beloved BBC sci-fi series that began back in 1963). Playing the title role as the king-who-blew-it, he has again teamed up with the RSC’s new artistic director, Gregory Doran, five years after their wonderful Hamlet.
 
First, the bad news: Tennant’s wig. His long, wispy locks would be fine were he playing Jesus, or Russell Brand’s twin brother. But it’s an unfailing distraction from his performance. I suppose it makes a pointedly visual contrast with Richard’s nemesis, who wouldn’t be seen dead wearing such an atrocious syrup (syrup of figs – wig – rhyming cockney), as Nigel Lindsay’s very proletarian Bolingbroke might call it. It is, you may remember, Bolingbroke who deposes Richard and takes the crown as Henry IV. The two parts of Shakespeare’s epic account of that reign are to follow in the repertoire next year. 
 
Richard’s trajectory from effete artsy prig to deposed smelly wretch is depicted in the two years prior to his squalid death in captivity in 1400.  The play is really a study of how to pointlessly make enemies and then further screw it up by lacking the toughness to control them. Tennant always suppresses his natural Scottish accent in his stage work, and his rather forced English delivery suits his tetchy, sardonic performance as the inadequate monarch. 
 
But the show itself struck me as a highly respectable production rather than a thrilling one, its slight inertia masked by some fine performances from distinguished old RSC time-servers. Notable are Oliver Ford Davies as the exasperated Duke of York; Michael Pennington, superb as John of Gaunt, who drips despair in his great “sceptr’d isle” speech; and venerable Jane Lapotaire as the vengeful white haired Duchess of Gloucester. She gets a curtain call all to herself.
 
The production is given a further lift by its visual elegance. Stephen Brimson Lewis’ projection of receding gothic arches (the plywood has finally gone digital!) has a medieval effect enhanced by a battery of choral singers trilling high above the thrust stage. The Stratford theatre’s interior has had a handsome rebuild recently, and it works well for this show, but I can’t help feeling it’s a matter of regret that the new auditorium doesn’t have the flexibility to be refigured back to a proscenium arch format for chosen productions.
 
Tennant, however, should be well pleased. He has sold out this great lyric tragedy all on his own, and he is particularly good in the last act, locked in an agony of introspection and disdain: “I wasted time and now doth time waste me.” An impressive evening, far from radical, but a sign of good things to come. It continues its run at the Barbican Theatre in London in December.

 


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