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Theatre review: Richard II 
15th-Dec-2011 11:35 pm
This "off-centre square cropping" thing for the new blog is obviously going to create some nice effects sometimes - I really like how this image has come up and not just because of Eddie Redmayne. The colours are lovely too (my theatre companion for tonight was full of praise for David Plater's lighting.) Redmayne is one of the Donmar's past stars returning for Michael Grandage's farewell to the venue, and in this final production takes on Richard II. Grandage has gone rather knowingly on-theme by ending his decade as Artistic Director with the story of a king giving up his crown. Redmayne's performance is all in the little physical tics he gives Richard, a lead he's not afraid to make unlikeable from the start (Andy described his performance as snake-like.) His defining feature as king is his absolute belief in the divine right of succession and he seems smugly comfortable dispensing judgement, surrounded by a coterie of sycophants (a very attractive coterie that includes Jumpy's Michael Marcus as Bushy¹ the little glances, whispers and smiles between him and Stefano Braschi's Green mean I wouldn't be surprised if someone were writing slashfic as we speak.)

Once it becomes apparent Bolingbroke's coup will succeed in deposing him and his belief that god will keep him on the throne proves false, Richard turns from smug youth to petulant teenager, surrendering the crown without a fight but with a lot of tantrums instead. Andrew Buchan provides a great contrast as the gruff, businesslike warrior Bolingbroke, while Ron Cook as York gets a more rewarding role after his rather neglected Fool in last year's King Lear. Pippa Bennett-Warner is also memorable as Queen Isabel, one of the few people whose affection for Richard turns out to be genuine after he's dethroned, and Michael Hadley as John of Gaunt does justice to the play's most famous speech. But the cast is hard to fault all round. Richard Kent has designed an impressive Byzantine set - apparently a protégé of Christopher Oram's, he accordingly gives us some high arched doorways against the back wall. Grandage's production is less flashy than the decor, rather thoughtful but no less engaging for that - Andy said afterwards he'd enjoyed it a lot more than he usually does the Histories.

In one scene Bolingbroke, by now Henry IV, makes a passing reference to his wayward son and the bad company he keeps in London's taverns. I wondered if the plays had been written out of order and this was an in-joke to remind the groundlings of their beloved Falstaff, but apparently no, Richard II does slightly predate the Henry IV plays. So it seems as well as writing plays, Shakespeare also invented the teaser for coming attractions.

Richard II by William Shakespeare is booking until the 4th of February at the Donmar Warehouse.

¹he doubles as the rebellious Abbot of Westminster, meaning that just like in Misfits he gets to die twice in the same show; a rather odd pattern to be getting into
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