Nigel Lindsay’s Bolingbroke is steadfast, direct, the shape of things to come. He never has the upper hand over Richard but he has time and history on his side and he knows it. In other productions, Bollingbroke felt emotionally connected to Richard, but here he looks ahead and Richard looks elsewhere.
Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt dominates all scenes he is in (his speech in Act II is revelatory and heartbreaking, even more so since Richard’s behaviour at the same time is beyond disgusting) and Jane Lapotaire ‘s presence in Act I is such a joy, moving but with a sprinkling of dark humour. Oliver Ford Davies as Duke of York navigates the dark treacheries of the play with ease, and his relationship with his son Aumerle has more shade and light than usual. Emma Hamilton as the Queen has an irresistible openness and strength that makes sense of her difficult relationship with Richard and all actors in the company own their respective parts but also the whole play.
The set and dramatic use of space are breathtaking: I don’t remember a design so sparse in the huge RST stage, and at the same time so dramatically vibrant. The backdrop looks both solid and a mirage of deceptive perceptions. Additional touches of bridges lowered from above and the pit opening down below are as visually beautiful as they are meaningful.
Did I have problems with the production? The first hour is slower than I would have liked, but I have felt this in all productions of Richard II (so it’s probably the play, or me). And in a childish way, I would have liked for them to get more viscerally dirty when they drag Richard through the streets of London.
What else is left to say? A lot actually: how this production of Richard II works hand in hand with Edward II at the National, how I started to think the story along other stories of creatures of no morality that need to learn their humanity (Frankenstein for example). I will come back to some of this, in the mean time I am happy to relive and play with the aftertastes of this production.
Linking to another review (and an acknowledgement): Before I wrote my response to the production, I had a long twitter conversation with Emer McHugh that helped distill my thoughts so I thank her. She has written a beautiful review herself, but a word of warning, it’s full of spoilers, tread with caution.
UPDATE 20/10/2013: I wrote another post for all the strands between the RSC production of Richard II and the National Theatre production of Edward II
UPDATE 31/10/2013: Peter Kirwan from the University of Nottingham and the Bardathon blog has written an excellent review that tickles many things lying in my subconscious about the production and makes me want to see it again.