Friday, January 18, 2019

‘The Tragedy of King Richard The Second’ by WIlliam Shakespeare

18 January 2019

On Tuesday we were at the Odeon in Milton Keynes to watch the NTLive screening of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tragedy of King Richard The Second’, live from the Almeida Theatre in London. We last saw ‘Richard II’ at the Barbican, with David Tennant in the title role (reviewed here in December 2013). Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production, starring Simon Russell Beale, is a much less conventional version of the play. Set in a windowless, door-less box, with just eight actors who can never escape from the stage, it has a deliberately claustrophic feel. There are no elaborate costumes and no props, other than a range of different kinds of gloves and buckets of blood, water and soil which lurk menacingly against the back wall until called into action. This plain setting allows you to concentrate on the acting, which is excellent. Simon Russell Beale, who we last saw as Prospero in Greg Doran’s RSC production of ‘The Tempest’ (reviewed here in November 2016), is a mesmerising performer and it was great to be able to see his performance in close-up on the big screen. The projector in our cinema seemed to be incorrectly adjusted, meaning we often couldn’t see the tops of the actors’ heads, but this only served to enhance the intense, claustrophic mood of the production. ‘Richard II’ is an odd play but I was particularly struck by the beauty of Shakespeare’s language. There are some lovely poetic speeches and it was poignant to be listening to Joseph Mydell’s John of Gaunt reciting ‘This Sceptred Isle’ while elsewhere MPs were voting on the EU Withdrawal Agreement. But I wasn’t totally convinced by the Almeida production: having such a small cast of actors playing multiple parts, without any differentiation of costume, proved quite confusing. Even knowing the play, I found it difficult to follow. There was some great acting and it was fascinating to see the stripped-down approach but I’m not sure it fully worked.

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