RSC’s Richard II and Jez Butterworth’s Mojo: last performances and theatre as pop culture

Ben Whishaw, Rupert Grint, Colin Morgan, Daniel Mays, Brendan Coyle. Photo Nigel Norrington

Ben Whishaw, Rupert Grint, Colin Morgan, Daniel Mays, Brendan Coyle. Photo Nigel Norrington

Last night was an important night in the calendar. It was the last performance of Mojo at the Harold Pinter theatre, and that would have been significant enough, but for me it was also the official end of theatrical 2013, a vintage year by all accounts. Others are articulate in analysing cutting edge trends, but what I loved about 2013 was the abundance of productions that generated feverish excitement. In the last few months of the year, London theatres were full of people bouncing from Richard II to Coriolanus, Americhan Psycho to Mojo, but also productions without major stars: The Light Princess at the National, or The Pride at Trafalgar studios. Earlier in the year, Edward II (again at the National), Macbeth at Trafalgar and the Cripple of Inishmaan at Noel Coward had similar audiences.

Not all productions had been sold out successes and some of the enthusiasm was instigated and channelled through the presence of a famous actor, but what I loved was the absence of austere and po-faced reactions. Some people took these productions to their (fannish) heart and tumblr exploded with the sublime and the ridiculous. (I can easily argue this unfettered enthusiasm – unconcerned with received wisdom or labels – applies to all productions with something vital to say: from Nick Payne’s and Carrie Cracknell’s Blurred Lines – the screaming of the girls next to me at the curtain call was deafening – to traditional Shakespeare. But that’s another blog post altogether).

Which brings me to last performances: I rarely go to the final night of a play I haven’t seen before, the fear of loving a production and unable to see it again too much to bear. I go to last performances of productions I love unconditionally, flaws and all. In that spirit, with a fan perspective, I try to capture and remember some of that heightened unifying emotion.

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Richard II at the Barbican (25 January 2014) scored in all markers of a great last night: plenty of emotion, some mishaps and mischief at the curtain call. Final lines were slower and fuller as if everyone was reluctant to admit the finality of it all. Emma Hamilton was openly emotional during all of her scenes. David Tennant – who, during the London performances at the proscenium Barbican theatre, started doing some of the speeches directly to the audience – pushed these interactions for longer. In the scene where Richard, in a moment of both power play and intimacy, takes a bite out of a sweet and puts the rest in Aumerle’s mouth, the coordination was off and David Tennant dropped it on the floor. A wry regal smile and Elliot Barnes-Worrell’s servant efficiently sweeping in and wiping it off, and the moment was gone.

David Tennant as Richard II

David Tennant as Richard II

At the curtain call, between the audience’s standing ovation and the emotions of final night, Nigel Lindsay took off the crown and waved it in the air, at which point David Tennant decided to go for it. It was only brief but in that moment of playful wrestling, Shakespeare could have been rewritten and Richard reigned again. By the third curtain call (that only took place after persistent applause), David Tennant was gesturing to the audience to go home. As we were leaving, the lighting projected to the stage changed, creating the Westminster image of the first scene over the throne and coffin of the last scene.

Jez Butterworth’s Mojo, a play with repressed emotions at the centre of it, is fertile ground for an eventful last performance. In the final night at the Harold Pinter theatre (8 February 2014), every opportunity was taken to push the moment a little bit further, every fight was a little more chaotic. The flight of stairs leading up to the set was often the aim for objects thrown, with a chair finding the target and then taking a few minutes on its way down, making a satisfying plonking sound on every step. Later Ben Whishaw kicked a box that also found the opening and its way down the stairs. Brendan Coyle threw a chair directly at the bar, knocking off several glasses.

In the second half, Daniel Mays put a toothpick in his mouth and then accidentally dropped it. He looked at it on the floor, then looked at Rupert Grint and both of them found it impossible not to corpse. Which only set off the audience laughing and applauding. It took a few moments and a couple of attempts to get the scene back on track. (On a side note, Rupert Grint has grown tremendously as a stage actor during the run. He is far more precise in the moment, and as a first timer it seems he has had an exceptionally positive experience. Hopefully, that will bring him back to the stage before long).

Daniel Mays was openly tearful in the second half, far more than his character required, and he might have had trouble getting some words out. Ben Whishaw was crying in his last scene (snot and all).

At the curtain call, Daniel Mays looked inconsolable (I have seen actors crying at the curtain call, but I haven’t seen anyone so emotional before). Jez Butterworth was sitting behind us, and the cast kept pointing at him and applauding. (While I didn’t see him, I am told Andy Serkis – Potts at the original production in 1995 – was also in the audience). Even the longest of applauses passes quickly, and as the curtain came down and we started to leave, we could already hear the sounds of the set being dismantled.

P.S. revstan has written a similar post about the last performances of Richard II and Mojo.

3 responses to “RSC’s Richard II and Jez Butterworth’s Mojo: last performances and theatre as pop culture

  1. Completely agree about Rupert Grint’s performance growing during the run. I re-watched the Andrew Marr interview he did back in November when he said that he’d always ruled out theatre, thought it too terrifying which makes it doubly impressive to see him perform with such confidence. I think this stint in Mojo will be good for his career not least in giving him confidence in his craft.

    • Rupert Grint had the challenge (and the invaluable lesson) of having to keep up with Daniel Mays, who is full on, take-no-prisoners all the time. If if he could this, and fit in that company, he can do it. I don’t think he ‘ll look back after this.

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