Richard II- A Royal Shakespeare Company Production

As seen in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England
Written by William Shakespeare
25 October 2013
“This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,–This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”
Richard II
by William Shakespeare

When I bought tickets for Frances and I to see David Tennant in Richard II, we got some of the last tickets even though we were many months early. We didn’t realize then how close we would come to not being able to see this play at all. On the day of the play, we spent the day in the hospital where I had been for the two previous days. As luck would have it, the discharge papers came within an hour of the start of the show. Although we were an hour away, we decided to see what we could of the show. Thanks to the extraordinary ushers, we were shown in only a scene or two into the play. Thankfully, the other guests were nice about it, and it honestly has me reconsidering why some people are late to a show!

For those unfamiliar with the plot of Richard II, here is a brief overview of what happens (as a heads up, the History plays are hard to summarize). The play starts in the last two years of Richard II’s life. Richard II’s cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, is having a feud with Thomas Mowbury, and they both ask Richard to judge. Bolingbroke believes that Mowbury has spent the money that Richard gave him for the soldiers on other things, and has murdered the Duke of Gloucester. However, Bolingbroke’s own father, John of Gaunt (and brother of the murdered Gloucester) believes that Richard is responsible for the murder. Against the wishes of Richard and Gaunt, Bolingbroke and Mowbury challenge each other to a duel. At the beginning of the duel, Richard stops the men and sentences them to banishment from England. Mowbury is banished forever, whereas Bolingbroke is sentenced to 10 years before it is lessened to 6 years. These banishments start the downfall of Richard.

When Gaunt dies soon after his banishment, Richard II seizes all his land and money, which angers the nobles who think Richard II is wasting money. Richard II took the money from the banished Bolingbroke to fund war with Ireland, is taxing the commoners, and fining the nobles for old crimes. The nobles split into two groups, the first of which help Bolingbroke return to England and form a plan to overthrow Richard II. The second group is loyal to Richard II (and his “divine right” to be king); these nobles are Bushy, Bagot, Green and the Duke of Aumerle (son of the Duke of York and cousin of both Richard and Bolingbroke). When Richard II leaves for the war in Ireland, Bolingbroke and his forces amass an army and invade the north of England. There they execute Bushy and Green, and win over the Duke of York, who was left in charge when Richard II left. While only initially claiming back his lands, Bolingbroke takes the throne from Richard II when he returns from Ireland. Bolingbroke is crowned King Henry IV and Richard II is taken to prison. Aumerle and others plan a rebellion but it is discovered by his father, York, who tells Henry IV. Aumerle is spared due to his mother’s pleading, but the others are executed. Seeking to please Henry IV and his fear of leaving Richard II alive, Aumerle kills Richard. Henry IV tries to distance himself from the killing and vows to journey to Jerusalem to cleanse himself for his part in Richard II’s death.

I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of the history plays by Shakespeare, and after having been in the hospital all day before the show, I don’t have that clear of a memory of this show. I do know that overall I really enjoyed the play and thought it was a great adaptation, worthy of the star and budget it probably had.

Obviously the things most people want to know about this production is: How was David Tennant? Honestly, he shone in the part. The only other version of Richard II that I have seen has Ben Whishaw in the lead part, and he was amazing. Tennant’s version of Richard II was different, but no less amazing. There are some very epic speeches that Richard II has to deliver, and Tennant was impressive in these scenes. Tennant was able to bring Richard II from the height of his power to the degradation in the dirty prison cell. Honestly, Tennant was totally worth the price of admission and his reputation!

The costumes were something that really stuck out in my memory about the show as well. The robes that Richard II wore were extravagant and luxurious, and helped convey his spending money freely. The long hair extensions added to Tennant looked horrible in the interviews I saw before the show, but in the show it worked. The crown hid where the edge of his hair was, and added to the femininity of Richard II, which with Tennant’s stature would have been difficult to manage otherwise. The other characters, especially Bolingbroke, wore more practical outfits to show how they were different.

The one other thing that was very impressive was the stage. The RSC used the space wonderfully and conveyed many different spaces. There was a great scene where Richard and Amurle where on a suspended platform (very near our seats actually) above the stage. Then the best was where the whole stage floor opened to reveal Richard’s cell below. It was a very amazing reveal, and was completely unexpected!

Final Verdict: A great adaptation, with some amazing monologues that Tennant was able to bring to life.

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