Richard II – October 2013

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Greg Doran

Venue: RST

Date: Wednesday 16th October 2013

It’s early days yet – tomorrow is the press night – and while some areas are patchy and uneven, there are good performances and good ideas which should become more pronounced with practice. The set worked very well for the most part, and this production has the loveliest music I’ve heard for a long time at the RSC. It’s a promising start to Greg’s reign proper, and with David Tennant in the lead role, at least they’re assured of a sell-out run.

The basic set was largely visible during the director’s talk beforehand – more on that story later. A series of screens overlapped behind the thrust, giving a false perspective. They were coloured blue and shimmered, which turned out to be a 3D effect; when the opening images of the inside of a church were projected onto them, the resulting effect was of a vast Gothic chamber – very impressive. Thin metal pillars, like bars, continued the effect, and coming forward from these there were stumpy pillars hanging over the front part of the stage, so it really felt like we were in a huge cathedral space, lit softly to give a misty gloom.

What looked like a low platform in the middle of the stage turned out to be a ramp, raised sufficiently to create a low step at the front. In the middle of this was placed a cloth-covered coffin on the right of which was a stool. Knowing the back story as we do, we were aware that this would be the late Duke of Gloucester’s coffin, and so it was. His widow came on before the start of the performance and, sitting on the stool, she draped herself over the coffin, clearly grieving for her loss. The beautiful music started up at this point too, with three female singers positioned on the top right balcony giving an exquisite rendering of some sad but beautiful music.

These factors would have created a wonderful atmosphere of loss and grief, but for the people still noisily taking their seats and some chatter behind us. However, the sense of loss was still strong, and this was an unusual way to start the play. Eventually the singing gave way to some trumpet music – top left balcony – and the queen, her attendants and other lords all trooped onto the stage to pay their respects to the deceased Duke. The Dukes of York and Lancaster arrived together after most of the family were gathered, and bowed to each other over the coffin; the Duke of York also touched the widowed Duchess on the shoulder.

This was a solemn occasion, mourning a death in the royal family, and then another chap turned up: Mowbray. The Mowbray who’s suspected of putting the Duke of Gloucester in that very coffin. Talk about tactless! Bolingbroke was incensed, and the rest of the family weren’t too pleased either. Before Mowbray and Bolingbroke could get into it, Richard arrived, with his long flowing locks and long white/gold robes. There have apparently been comments about the hair choice; my only problem was that the combination of long hair, pointy bits on the crown and long robes made him look like an elf out of Lord Of The Rings. Fortunately I got past that pretty quickly, although it wasn’t helped by the decision to make this Richard as disinterested as possible. With nothing else to take its place, the elf comparison stuck around for longer than I would have liked.

I’m not sure if Richard acknowledged the coffin in any way before speaking to John of Gaunt. Having done that, he came to the front of the stage to ask Bolingbroke and Mowbray what their dispute was about. They ditched the references to Mowbray embezzling money; Bolingbroke simply accused Mowbray of being behind “all the treasons for these eighteen years complotted and contrived in this land” as well as plotting the Duke of Gloucester’s death. He put his hand on the coffin when he referred to the Duke, which made the back story all the clearer. Mowbray likewise ignored the financial shenanigans, and went back to the far end of the coffin to confess, nearly in tears, that he was partly responsible for the Duke’s death through neglect of duty.

Richard remained aloof while both Mowbray and Bolingbroke exchanged insults – this was a very strong stand-off – and at one point Richard left them to it and went back to consult with his friends, Bushy, Bagot and Green. After this conference, he returned to the front of the stage to tell the warring pair to let bygones be bygones. His pronunciation of “phy-si-ci-an” and “in-ci-si-on” was funny, and meant to be so; his cronies laughed at his wit. But it was no use; neither Mowbray nor Bolingbroke would give up their cause, with Mowbray gesturing towards the king’s followers when he referred to “gilded loam”; they weren’t happy with that insult.

Having been unable to reconcile these two, the king announced that they would have to fight it out, and swept off stage followed by most of the court. John of Gaunt was left behind to speak to the Duchess of Gloucester, and we readied ourselves to hear how Jane Lapotaire would deliver the widow’s speech. Having seen her deliver some dialogue brilliantly a couple of winters ago, we suspected this might be a special event, but while there was some sign of her brilliance tonight, the delivery was still patchy. Her predicament was very moving however, and this was certainly a better version of this scene than most I’ve encountered; with this scene following directly on from the previous one the energy levels were still high.

For the duel scene, a balcony descended from on high with Richard’s throne right in the middle. Richard himself was seated there, with his queen and her attendants to one side. The ramp was lowered back to the floor level, and with the church background disappearing we were soon in the new location. They went through the usual preamble, and the two contenders were fairly clanking their way around the stage with all the armour they had on. When Richard came down to embrace Bolingbroke he still carried his sceptre, so his embrace was one-armed. Mowbray stepped forward as if he expected to have a similar greeting, but Richard swept past him with a brief look and went straight back up to his throne.

Again they went through the rituals as the two men prepared to fight. This can be rather dull, but they kept our interest going with some brisk action. A massive sword was brought on for each man, almost as tall as they were, and they actually got as far as taking the first swing at each other before an increasingly concerned Richard threw down his baton and stopped the fight. He came down to the lower level and huddled under the balcony with his cronies, considering what to do next. There was one flourish of the trumpets, and still the conference kept going, with one of the three cronies signalling for John of Gaunt to join them. The pause extended even further and was generating some humour when the Lord Marshal signalled for another flourish of the trumpets; this was interrupted by Richard stepping forward to deliver the verdict – banishment. Gaunt and the others stood along the back, with Gaunt looking unhappy at this turn of events, even before he had a chance to tell us how he felt.

During Mowbray’s complaint about his exile, Richard turned away and Mowbray actually grabbed the royal hand to stop him – shock, horror! He then left the stage and had to return to take the oath with Bolingbroke, after which Bolingbroke urged Mowbray to confess his crime. This prompting led Mowbray to take a very long steady look directly at King Richard, who stood by the stairs up to the balcony, waiting to see what Mowbray would do. I didn’t notice any specific signal passing between them, but eventually Mowbray decided that silence was his best option, and turned the offer down flat.

Richard looked a lot happier after Mowbray’s departure, once this threat of exposure had passed, and as he looked round and saw John of Gaunt with tears in his eyes, it was a natural impulse to remit four years of Bolingbroke’s banishment. Gaunt’s chiding comments about the limits of a king’s power didn’t seem to affect Richard particularly, and his lack of reaction to other people’s criticisms made him seem almost autistic at times. Richard did deliver his final lines with some asperity before striding off, but there wasn’t a lot going on other than that. Gaunt’s farewell to his son was moderately moving, with Bolingbroke’s practical approach cutting through his father’s fanciful attempts to make things easier for him.

Back at the court, Richard and his cronies were still whispering together, with sly glances at those not in the inner circle. While Richard changed into less formal wear, glad to ‘let his hair down’, one of the three, possibly Bagot, held up a mirror so he could check his appearance. Despite such pressing business as the state of his hairstyle, he found time to question Aumerle on Bolingbroke’s departure before Green brought up the necessity of dealing with those troublesome Irish rebels. Richard’s decision to go to Ireland in person was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and he was clearly thinking on his feet when it came to raising enough money for the war by soaking the rich with exorbitant taxes. The news of Gaunt’s illness was greeted with appalling pleasure by the king, who headed off to visit his uncle with the sound of jingling coins in his ears.

The next scene was beautifully lit; gloom enough to suggest an interior but with a slanting amber light suggestive of late evening. The interchange between Gaunt and his brother the Duke of York was excellent. Oliver Ford Davies can do more with a slight twitch of an eyebrow than many actors can with their whole bodies, and here I noticed the look of compassion on his face as Gaunt began his diatribe against the current regime and their corrupt practices. It spoke volumes about their relationship and York’s belief about the uselessness of criticising the king. The “sceptred isle” speech was very good, and was followed almost immediately by the king’s arrival with his court. Richard kept himself aloof again, and I thought I detected a note of boredom with all the unnecessary harping on about the ever-so-wonderful Edward III; stuck in the past, these old folk. The generational conflict was being brought out well in this production, and the lack of parental influence on Richard as he was growing up was clearly a major part of the problem.

Again there were good reactions from York during the angry exchange between the king and Gaunt, but I would have preferred to see more from the rest of the onlookers. The lines were clear, but there wasn’t as much tension as there could be. Richard did grab Gaunt and haul him out of his chair, mind you, which helped to show the depths to which the king had sunk, manhandling an elderly invalid like that. He did come out with a graceful epitaph following the report of Gaunt’s death, but after pausing to see if he could add anything more, he decided he’d done enough and swept on with “So much for that”. His brazen theft of Gaunt’s estate was breath-taking, and provoked the most robust speech from York that we were likely to hear. York’s ineffectiveness was very apparent throughout this production, and even here the anger wasn’t dangerous so much as regretful. Richard lolled in Gaunt’s chair after York had left the stage, and his decision to leave his last remaining uncle in charge was marked by a vague waving of his hand in the man’s general direction. Once the king had left the stage, the beginnings of a rebellion were soon underway with the conversation between Northumberland, Willoughby and Ross.

For the scene with the queen being comforted by two of Richard’s followers, the image of the white hart was projected onto the back wall while the rest of the stage was bare – a room at the palace perhaps? This scene was weak, I felt. I hesitate to criticise the actors involved; with such strong casting in the major roles, particularly the older ones, it’s invidious to compare the performances too closely, but perhaps this was a factor in the unevenness of the production. Without better characterisations, these characters tended to fade into the background however hard the actors worked, leading to the very problem which the Duke of York so wonderfully describes in Act V Scene 1 – “As in a theatre, the eyes of men, after a well grac’d actor leaves the stage, are idly bent on him that enters next, thinking his prattle to be tedious”. I had very little sense of these characters at the end of this scene, and more work needs to be done here.

They did have an unnecessary bit of business based on the relatively new understanding of perspectives and mirror anamorphosis. One chap held a set of distorted pictures and the other a polished metal tube which when placed in the centre of the picture brought the image into focus. The queen looked at some of these images, but wasn’t impressed. Neither was I – this was a fiddly way to represent the point the two men are making, which is that we can change the way we look at things. I suspect many people in the audience won’t have a clue what they’re doing – it’s not as if we can see what the queen is looking at – so it would be a good thing to drop.

When Bushy arrived with the bad news about Bolingbroke, followed by the Duke of York with his defeatist attitude, the atmosphere changed. The Duke’s instruction to the cronies – “muster men” – left them completely blank and clueless, which was mildly funny, and they were soon heading off to what they hoped would be safety. At least they had enough sense to recognise how much they were hated by just about everyone except the king.

Bolingbroke’s arrival at Berkeley castle with Northumberland was clear but uneventful, with nothing much made of either Northumberland’s flattering comments or Hotspur’s arrival. I think the Duke of York came out on his own, without any appearance by Berkeley, and was again completely ineffectual. There was a long pause between “fare you well” and “Unless you please to enter in the castle”, which was quite funny.

The Earl of Salisbury (also the Lord Marshal) did his best to persuade the Welsh archers to stay to support Richard, but it was a lost cause. Bushy and Greene came up through a trapdoor as I recall, and during Bolingbroke’s exposition of their crimes, one of them looked surprised by some of the accusations; they did sound pretty contrived to me. Hotspur believed them though; he even spat at them. The other chap was much more composed, but they were still taken off and killed out of sight, with only their heads coming back on in bloody bags.

At long last Richard was back in England, and happy to be so. His fondness towards the ground and curses on the rebels were all very well, but Aumerle soon reminded him there was work to be done. Nothing daunted, Richard reminded him that there were angels fighting on his side – completely barmy – but as soon as the bad news about the departed troops was delivered by Salisbury, those angels were instantly forgotten. There was a very strong sense already in this scene that if Richard wasn’t king then he was nothing, and the speech – “let us sit upon the ground” – was a remarkable expression of ordinariness from such a pampered creature.

The balcony again dropped down to represent Flint castle, though not as low as it had before, with Richard resplendent in a gold robe, wearing his crown and carrying the sceptre. Aumerle was with him, and spoke some lines in reply to Northumberland, at which Richard nodded – I think these must be the lines “Northumberland, say thus the King returns…”.

There was an interesting choice immediately following this, with Northumberland not arriving back until Richard’s “Most mighty prince, my lord Northumberland…”. The intervening dialogue was played out by Richard and Aumerle on the balcony, with Aumerle breaking down in tears while his cousin talked about his future. Richard sat down next to him and put his arm around Aumerle to comfort him, even putting Aumerle’s head on his breast. It was a touching, intimate moment, and showed that Richard could occasionally feel compassion for someone else’s suffering. Richard picked up his crown – he had taken it off earlier – and almost placed it on Aumerle’s head, before putting it back on his own. York was also sobbing when he arrived, and once down from the balcony, Richard became slightly mischievous, pointing to his crown on “thus high at least”. Bolingbroke seemed almost at a loss to find the prize so easily achieved, and they were soon off for London, with Northumberland patting Bolingbroke on the shoulder as he left.

They took the interval here, well over half way through the running time, and I was glad to be able to move around. The restart had the queen and her two companions in the garden. There was birdsong and dappled light on the ground, but otherwise the garden was entirely in our imagination. The queen’s companions wore those large mediaeval headdresses, which made them look a bit like nuns – I have a fondness for nuns in this scene. When the gardeners arrived, they hid behind the screens at the back.

The older gardener sent the younger one to tie up some apricots, giving him some tools to do it with. Then he called him back to take another item – sticks? – and then again for the string and a knife. This was funny, and then they launched into the political debate, which came across clearly for once. After the queen challenged the gardener, he commented “I speak no more than everyone doth know”, and glanced at the queen’s women. She looked at them as well, and one of them lowered her eyes and looked away, as if admitting she had kept the news from the queen. The other companion was either guiltless of that omission or less troubled by her conscience.

Back in the church, the balcony was lowered all the way to the ground, with the throne placed centrally on it. This is the ‘rain of gauntlets’ scene, and they came flying thick and fast tonight. I noticed that Bagot had survived – so much for flying to Richard’s side – and was happy to grass up those who had been complicit in the death of the Duke of Gloucester (or who were simply out of favour with the new regime; either way works). The audience were appreciative, and they kept the stage tidy by picking up each and every glove almost as soon as it hit the floor. There was a strong sense of the country imploding, and I wasn’t confident that this Bolingbroke would be capable of holding it all together.

The Duke of York entered, and so began the deposition scene. First though, the Bishop of Carlisle did his best to stop the crowning of Henry IV, to no avail. While waiting for Richard’s arrival, Henry tried out the throne for size, and seemed to be getting comfortable in it. Then Richard entered, in a simple gown, and took over the proceedings. Having taken the crown to give to Henry (or so Henry thought), Richard stood near the front of the stage with his back to the court and held the crown out in his right hand. His “Here, cousin” was like calling a dog, and he held a long pause after “seize” to emphasise the reality of the situation.

Henry was very uncomfortable at this. He clearly wanted the crown, but he didn’t want any awkwardness in the getting of it. He stayed on the throne at first, hesitating and fidgeting a bit, until he decided to come forward and take the crown from Richard. But it wasn’t going to be that easy. As Henry’s hand took hold of one side of the crown, Richard kept a firm grip on the other, and delivered the lines of this scene beautifully and clearly. It was a masterly performance, and although it could have done with a stronger Bolingbroke to set against Richard, it was definitely one of the best scenes of the production.

Richard’s weariness came across in the next stages of the scene with his reluctance to look at the papers which Northumberland wanted him to read. The mirror was fetched by Bagot, who had held it in the earlier scene, and Richard dropped it on the ground at the appropriate moment. He then went and stood on the throne to ask his final favour, and was sent off to the Tower. The court had no sooner left the church than another conspiracy started brewing, this time between Aumerle, the Bishop of Carlisle and the Abbot of Westminster. This is not a happy country.

For the queen’s encounter with her husband, they chose another unusual staging. The queen and her women came on to a bare stage, and various people ran across it from time to time, hurtling past them so that they huddled together for safety. It reminded us of the rioting in Julius Caesar, when poor Cinna the poet gets killed by the mob, and there’s even a reference to Julius Caesar in the text at this point so perhaps that’s what they were picking up on. Anyway, the rabble eventually gathered behind the women and tried to attack Richard when he arrived. The guards held them back, but they stayed for the rest of the scene and heckled occasionally, such as making lewd sounds when Richard and his wife kissed. Her women turned round and glared at them at that point and they quieted down a bit, but there was an atmosphere of menace all the way through this scene. I’m not sure why it was staged this way; I found it a distraction from the conversation between the royal couple without adding anything of value, but presumably they had some specific goal in mind.

Northumberland was up in the circle when he delivered his lines, and after Richard and his queen left, the crowd ran off shouting. As they dispersed, the Duke of York was revealed sitting on a small bench. (I did spot him sneaking on just before the end of the scene, so it wasn’t a surprise.) The story of Henry and Richard in the procession was well told, and then Aumerle arrived with the incriminating letter sticking quite some way out of his jerkin. What a prat! The ensuing family battle was remarkably unfunny, given our previous experiences with this scene, and things didn’t improve much when the York family arrived at court, although there were a few laughs to be had once the Duchess arrived.

That done, Exton was obliterated from the production entirely and we went straight into the scene at Pomfret. This time the set change took a little longer. The ramp rose up again but went even higher, until it was almost vertical. This uncovered a pit in the middle of the stage, but as the ramp was shiny it reflected Richard lying there in the pit and made it look as if he was lying behind the ramp. We heard other comments about this weird effect, and it was certainly confusing a number of people. It surprised me when Richard suddenly poked his head up out of the pit to deliver some of the later lines – the opening lines were spoken as he lay in the pit – and it wasn’t entirely clear what was going on.

Richard was chained by the arms, and one friend of ours thought that he would be killed and left in a crucifixion pose at the end, but that’s not how it turned out. Being chained meant he had to remain pretty static, and that rarely helps when delivering the sort of complex ideas which Richard presents us with in this scene. The fluidity of thought is somehow blocked by the lack of physical movement, and the lines failed to convince. Fortunately he’d got a lot of this stuff across earlier, so it didn’t matter that this scene didn’t work so well, but it would be nice to have a stronger finish.

The groom visited him, and that gave us another touching moment; literally as it happens. The groom hugged his former master, and Richard was surprised by this expression of affection. After the groom left, the warden unchained Richard so he could eat his poisoned food, but when he wouldn’t, some men came in and attacked him directly. In the fight, Richard pulled off one man’s mask and found he was looking into the face of Aumerle. And Aumerle was the one who killed him. Judas indeed.

The final scene made use of the balcony at a higher level, with Henry sitting on the throne and looking a lot more comfortable with his new position. He even sounder posher too; he’d been a bit of a barrow boy in the earlier scenes and not entirely convincing as a member of the royal family, but now he seemed to have adapted to his new role quite well. The various reports of victories here, there and everywhere were swiftly dealt with, and then Aumerle dragged a coffin from the back of the stage through to the front and announced that he’d murdered Richard. Henry was unhappy with this news, banished Aumerle and then made his usual promise to visit the Holy Land, etc. The Duke of York was weeping by Richard’s coffin; I presume this was partly for the death of Richard and partly for Aumerle’s actions and subsequent banishment. And that’s where the play usually ends, but not so tonight. As Henry looked at the coffin, Richard’s ghost walked on to the balcony and towards the throne where he stood, arms outstretched. And with that, the play ended and the crowd went wild.

I’m glad the audience enjoyed it so much, and hopefully the critics will appreciate it too. For us, it still needs some work, but the idea of doing this play as a stand-alone production, free from any need to consider the rest of the Histories, makes a refreshing change. Even so, there are enough lines in this play which reference the others in the cycle that it can be hard to separate them completely. For instance, there are still a great many prophecies about future problems if Richard is deposed – Henry VI parts 1, 2 and 3 – and they chose to keep in Henry’s comments about his son’s debauched lifestyle, which are really only relevant in terms of Henry IV part 1.

But the biggest problem for me was the uneven nature of the performance as a whole. Without wishing to be critical of anyone, the cast gave the impression of a football team which had several star Premiership players with the rest coming from League 1. I don’t know if this is down to casting or to lack of support in the rehearsal process or even to directorial choice, but it made the whole production weaker than it could be. Some of the business was unnecessary, as described above, but given that this was still a preview, I’m fairly confident that Greg will have things sorted the next time we see it, and there are still some fantastic aspects to the production which make it well worth seeing.

Moving on to the director’s talk earlier in the evening, Greg is a wonderful interviewee and gave us a very enjoyable talk on various aspects of the production, with a few prompts from Nicky Cox and some questions from the audience as well. The first question was why this particular play? Greg had wanted to do the histories for some time, but Michael Boyd hogged them for quite a while. Although Greg wanted to do the whole cycle, he also wanted to deal with them as individual plays. He also mentioned that Stratford was the first place to do these plays as a cycle, and this set the trend. Frank Benson put on a Week of Kings in 1901 which W B Yeats wrote about, and this led to a tradition of seeing them as being connected. While the tradition is fine, Greg wanted to look at each play on its own merits.

In the case of Richard II, it’s a beautiful play with very lyrical language. Greg first saw the production with Richard Pascoe and Ian Richardson, and was so taken with the play that he performed in it at school the very next term. He hadn’t told David Tennant yet, but he’s been giving him notes based on how he (Greg) played the part! Fortunately they have a good chemistry together, having done a double bill years ago in the West End. Greg feels that David is always able to keep his performance contemporary, while still having a great facility with Shakespeare’s language. Richard II can be a much harder part than Hamlet – for three acts the character is completely unlikeable! Jane Lapotaire expressed the similarity between Richard and Cleopatra during rehearsals – both start off as great rulers but empty people, and end up with absolutely nothing but much stronger as human beings.

There are a lot of father/son relationships in this play, and Greg wanted to bring out the fact that Richard has no father figure. As a result of this, and his very pampered upbringing, he finds it hard to relate to others or see a situation from someone else’s point of view. Shakespeare has a great talent for showing us so many different aspects of people that it can be hard to make up our minds about them, so Greg doesn’t like to go into rehearsal having decided who a character is; he prefers the portrayal to grow out of the rehearsal process. Some things have to be decided in advance of the rehearsal process, e.g. set design, cuts to the text, etc. Apart from that, Greg likes to create an environment in which actors can explore their parts and feel free to experiment.

He looked at the verticality of this play, in which status and hierarchy are very important. Richard II himself introduced titles such as ‘Your Majesty’ and ‘Your Royal Highness’, and clearly wanted to keep himself elevated above everyone else. Bolingbroke asks Richard to come down before the duel, and at Flint Castle, Richard comes down into the “base court”. There’s also the importance of touching the ground on Richard’s return from Ireland, and even at the end, his soul goes up to heaven while his body goes down into the earth.

Asked about Richard’s apparent decisiveness, Greg preferred to use the words capricious or volatile. Given the back story, there’s a risk to Richard if Mowbray loes the trial by combat, which would mean that Bolingbroke is proved right. There are a number of silent moments when Richard confers with his cronies (see above), and there’s a lot of ambiguity in Bolingbroke’s motive for returning to England. He insists he’s just back to reclaim his Dukedom, but the more he insists, the more it raises doubt. From the text, he’s already on his way back to England with an army before he’s heard of his father’s death, so it looks like a coup after all. The possibility of a scene break at that point is one which Greg discounts; Shakespeare wasn’t known for sending characters off at the end of one scene only to have them come on again for the next (apart from the later stages of The Tempest).

As well as the live cinema screenings, the production will be available on DVD. The production isn’t changed for the broadcast performance; it will change for the Barbican, but in terms of the broadcast, the cameras do more rehearsing than they do. When asked about the Julian Fellows’ claim that you need an expensive education to understand Shakespeare, Greg replied that you might need an expensive education to understand it if it’s done badly. (It’s unlikely Julian will be asked to apply his talents to any RSC productions for the foreseeable future.)

During rehearsals they go through the words used very carefully. Some of the words in each play are brand new (for Shakespeare’s time) e.g. apricot, perspectives. Some occur only once in all of Will’s plays, and his specific choice of one word over another means that the dialogue carries more than just the meaning.

Back with the broadcast topic, Greg believes there’s no better experience than seeing a Shakespeare play live. The audience changes the play, sometimes quite subtly, and even when we know the play well, there’s always the possibility of believing that, for one night only, something different could happen. Things can also go wrong, of course (which adds to the fun for us regular theatregoers). Film directs our vision, but on stage we make our own choices, or at least we think we do!

From his own experience as an actor, Greg knows the sort of challenges his cast are facing, and roughly where their performances can get to. Then his approach is down to the different needs of each actor; some need kindness, some a big stick, but it’s important for everyone to feel their contribution matters. The declamatory acting style has a short shelf life, but for the early formal scenes it can be useful. Modern actors can often deliver parts of a speech very well, but it’s important to get them to deliver the whole speech.

A question about design choices, and in particular Richard’s long hair, was asked by a hairdresser. Greg can’t always remember how a particular idea came about, as there’s so much interaction in the rehearsal room. In terms of the design, they used modern dress in Shakespeare’s time, so Greg is quite happy using contemporary styles for modern productions. They chose to go with the metaphor of the mediaeval period, and the length of hair was partly about showing how Richard is separated from the rest of the court. Long hair was difficult to look after, showing Richard’s status and wealth. There are a lot of Christ references in the text as well, so that idea also fed into the design. In effect, Richard’s followers are the cricketers and Bolingbroke and the rest are rugby boys, with their short cropped hair and preference for military activities. That’s all I got, but it was even more entertaining and informative than I’ve managed to record.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at

3 comments on “Richard II – October 2013

  1. Peter Serres says:

    The absence of Exton is explained if Aumerle is to be Richard’s murderer. This might also make it inappropriate for the scene which has become (in recent years) what I think of as “The Yorkshire Handicap” to be played quite so much as as comedy. Hard to get away with one of the Duchess’s lines in the scene with Bolingbroke – “O happy vantage of a kneeling knee”. I suppose there’s always the option of cutting it.

    My memory may be playing tricks but I feel strongly that in the 1970’s Ian Richardson/Richard Pasco version, the visitor to the prison at Pomfret was actually Bolingbroke – wearing a hooded jerkin and “unmasked” by Richard just before the scene ended.

    Incidentally, the word from Pedantry Corner is that the Duchess of York in the play is NOT Aumerle’s mother at all. The lady at that date was a second wife. After York’s death she re-married (twice, I believe) and was married to Scroop of Masham (AYE, the traitor in Henry V) at the time of the horrid revelations at Portchester. A neat illustration of the dangers of supposing History Plays to be anything more than “historical-ish”.

    • The choice of Richard’s murderer is an interesting one, given the impact it has on the closing stages of the play. We’ve also seen the Duke of York committing the crime (Berliner Ensemble), and Bolingbroke certainly has the motive. But how do they handle the final scene when he repudiates the murderer?

  2. Peter Serres says:

    On a second (Barbican Theatre) viewing it occurred to me that the unruly mob, which was no help towards the playing of Richard’s farewell to the Queen, WAS an effective cover for the planting of York’s bench for the next scene. I realised that it was there because two of the torch-bearing yobs stood taller than the rest. It made a more satisfying stage picture but, in retrospect, I’m left wondering whether some production points were applied embellishment rather than part of an organically-evolved interpretation.

    The full, mouth-to-mouth kiss in the scene of Richard’s surrender seemed to come from nowhere. In the play as written that’s the last time we see these two together so it can’t really lead anywhere. Deteriorating relations between York and Aumerle were signalled twice at scene endings, by York making a gesture of comfort which was angrily shrugged off by the son. Perhaps this was justification for York’s suspicions of his son’s proceedings.

    Second time round I was even more aware of the relative dullness of many of the supporting characters. Where is any sense of personality? The production sags during Richard’s absence in Ireland. Was the work richer when we had more of a permanent company? I hope I’m not just having a bad attack of nostalgia.

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