Richard II

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence reviews Simon Godwin’s production of Richard II at the Shakespeare’s Globe.

Richard II

Shakespeare’s searching exploration of the meaning of the meaning kingship and the rising powers that can destroy it is strongly conveyed in Simon Godwin’s intelligent and absorbing period-styled production of Richard II (Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside SE1)

Ruling by divine right, but himself ruled by caprice, King Richard exiles his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and seizes his father’s vast estates. While Richard is distracted by a rebellion in Ireland, Boling broke returns to England, intent on recovering his rightful property and perhaps seizing the crown itself.

Godwin captures the play’s concern with ceremony and the bombastic, decaying language of politics not to mention its vivid exploration of power and weakness and loyalty and treachery. It certainly begins with a flourish with Richard crowned as a ten-year-old, as shards of gold foil rain down on the audience and we then fast forward to the final two years of the monarch’s life.

Admittedly the production is occasionally slow paced but still manages to pack a dramatic punch and there are some strong comic moments – the scene in which the Duke and Duchess of York compete in pleading for their son is a particular highlight. Furthermore those eloquent soliloquies which pinpoint the nation’s strength and ability to withstand foreign invasion at a time of impending bankruptcy and the growing threat of civil war, and when Richard contemplates his sad lot. Are forcefully delivered and still strike a chord.

Charles Edwards, robed in white and gold gives an impressive performance as the weak, misguided monarch, confident of his status, yet also deeply conscious of the way the world sees him and when he crouches on the ground to talk about the death of kings he makes himself small and vulnerable, revealing something of the inner nature of the man. David Sturzaker makes a conventionally commanding and enigmatic Bolingbroke, while Graham Butler is a sparky Aumerle (the Duke of York’s son) and Sarah Woodward a passionate Duchess of York, there is also a standout performance by veteran actor William Gaunt as the dying John of Gaunt and he ensures that the character’s puns on the adjective “gaunt” take on an extra degree of resonance.

Paul Wills’s gilded set reflects the protagonist’s conviction that he is as potent and golden as the sun, while illustrating the fragility of this self-image.

After an excellent Merchant of Venice, the Globe has added another fine production to its Shakespeare canon.

Richard II
Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside SE1

Run until 18 October 2015
Box office: 020 7401 9919

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