Richard II

Shakespeare's popular play Richard II recounts the fate of the famously decadent king as he spends his father’s fortune, places punitive taxes onto the poor, and spends his nobles’ money. When his banished cousin Bolingbroke hears that his inheritance is being spent in his absence, things really take a turn for the worse –Bolingbroke returns at the head of an army.

Robert Elkin's Richard is excellent. He combines regal poise with histrionic overreaction, and his facial reactions are so compelling that he commands attention whether he’s the focus of the scene or not.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this production is the staging, which takes the form of a narrow promenade in the beautiful setting of the Kibble Palace Glasshouse. The stage is so narrow, and the actors so close, that it all feels very real and intimate. The impression given is that the audience are royal courtiers, watching the public-private life of the court unfold. The simple set is dominated by the constantly present throne, an effective reminder of what is at stake.

Robert Elkin's Richard is excellent. He combines regal poise with histrionic overreaction, and his facial reactions are so compelling that he commands attention whether he’s the focus of the scene or not. Emma Claire Brightlyn's Bolingbroke (“Lady”, rather than “Lord”, in this production) is also worthy of note. She is a commanding presence on the stage, and her emotionally controlled performance is a strong counterpoint to Elkin’s Richard.

Jennifer Dick’s adaptation has the show running at about two hours, which is a sizeable cut, but she has also edited it to make it performable by only four actors. In the first act, this works in a fairly standard way, in that the production is basically a whistle stop tour through the key plot points and the best speeches. This is a shame, because a lot of the subtlety of the play is lost. Richard is no longer a nuanced and often sympathetic character, but more simplistically in the wrong. Nonetheless, it’s a coherent way to get the running time down.

The real trouble comes in act two, with Adam Donaldson's Aumerle. This minor role has been expanded to be an amalgamation of all the characters who are supportive to the king, including his wife and courtiers. Presumably in an attempt to keep all the most important plot points intact, Aumerle essentially becomes the central character, and his love affair with Richard (invented for this production) becomes the driving force of the plot. A new narrative is constructed using fragments of scenes containing various different characters. The result is somewhat incoherent and definitely a radical departure from the original plot of Richard II.

This is an enjoyable two hours, but the radical edits mean the production lacks the subtle character study of the original. It’s quite a good play, but it isn't really the one Shakespeare wrote.

Reviews by Grace Knight

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The Blurb

Young King Richard II presides over a dispute between two of his subjects. Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray of treachery and Mowbray returns the slur. Richard, God’s anointed King, banishes both from his kingdom, and unknowingly sows the seeds of his own downfall. Bolingbroke will not accept the punishment and returns home with an army of supporters, full of determination and ambition.

With dangerous carelessness, Richard pillages his country’s resources and ignores the threat to his throne. He simply cannot conceive that his ‘divine right’ to rule could ever be snatched away…

“Show us the hand of God

That hath dismissed us from our stewardship;

For well we know, no hand of blood and bone

Can grip the sacred handle of our sceptre.”

Richard II makes its Bard in the Botanics debut this summer, performed by a company of four actors inside the stunning Kibble Palace Glasshouse. Don’t miss this chance to see Shakespeare’s gripping tale of the waning King and the uncompromising and passionate subject, who rises to take his place.