Much praise has been heaped on Gregory Doran’s production of Richard II for the RSC at Stratford and it is indeed a gripping exploration of the politics and psychology of power. It contains some of Shakespeare’s most stirring speeches and these were handled superbly by the immensely talented cast members.
It is a performance which is drenched in medieval mythology. From the traditional costume to the pageantry of the three trumpet players and the piety of the trio of sopranos this is a tale which is placed firmly in an era of royal instability and brutal power struggles.
With his flowing blond locks and feminine demeanour, David Tennant brings an almost angelic quality to his Richard II and there are even occasional moments of humanity. As his crown slips from his clutches, Richard, who came to the throne at the age of just 10, gives a speech about the perils of kingship. He tells us that ‘some have been deposed; some slain in war’ while others are ‘haunted by the ghosts they have deposed; some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d’ – and all because death keeps court ‘within the hollow crown’.
But don’t deceived by this apparent frailty; it is his tyranny, apparent from the beginning in his decision to have his uncle the Duke of Gloucester killed, which come to define him as a vain, power-hungry monarch.
Compelling performances came from every actor who walked on stage. Nigel Lindsay played Bolingbroke, who seized the crown and became Henry IV, and although he was thuggish he was also confident and commanded a respect which eluded Richard. Jane Lampotaire, meanwhile, put on a gut-wrenching performance as the grieving widow of the Duke of Gloucester and as the play opens, she can be seen draped across his coffin.
Medieval politics, particularly a belief in the divine right of kings, may seem very alien to a modern audience but the eloquent speeches, created by Shakespeare and brought to life by the actors made for a truly spine-tingling performance.