Richard II ~ RSC

RSC_newSo, I’ve just come in from seeing David Tennant as Richard II at the RSC and I have to say that I’m not sure.  There has been so much expectation about this production, so much hype in the build up and, to be fair, a lot of really good reviews as well.  But, I’m not sure.  There are some lovely moments.  Michael Pennington manages to make John of Gaunt’s paean to England sound as if it’s being spoken for the first time and Oliver Ford Davis plays York as if it is the part he has been waiting for all his life. But it shouldn’t be the two Duke who light up the stage and draw all eyes whenever they appear, that should be Richard’s role and if it were not for the fact that it was David Tennant playing the part I’m not sure it would be.  His is a consistent view of the king, but for me it isn’t a complete view and when it comes to the end of the play I don’t feel that Richard has made any real journey of self discovery.  Without such a journey it simply becomes the story of the disposition of a ruler and Shakespeare’s play is so very much more than that.

Mind you, Tennant isn’t helped by some very poor staging in Richard’s last scene.  Large chunks of the audience can’t see what’s happening, which rather defeats the point of the changes that the director, Greg Doran, has made in respect of what occurs in the goal.  You change Shakespeare at your peril and what Doran has done here (and I’m being circumspect because I know that many of you will be seeing this at the cinema in the next couple of weeks) shifts the whole focus of the play away from Richard and onto the nature of the politics of leadership.  I can see how bringing the differing types of kingship manifest by Richard and Bolingbroke in to focus might be tempting but only if you are seeing the play as a forerunner of the ‘Henry IV’ plays and ‘Henry V’ and Doran was insistent when this production was first announce that he wasn’t going to do that.

So, all in all, I’m left saying I’m not sure, which is a very real disappointment.  Has anyone else seen this yet?  And if so, what did you think?


14 thoughts on “Richard II ~ RSC

  1. Oh dear! How disappointing to hear that you didn’t enjoy it! It’s not coming to any of the cinemas near me (alas, alas) at any point, but I was hoping to possibly catch it on DVD. I still shall, but I’ll try to regulate my expectations.

    1. I don’t know if they’re going to issue a DVD, Jenny. Certainly, the National Theatre have been very definite in their refusal to do so with their productions that have been screened world wide, although that policy might change under the new director.

  2. That’s a bit worrying. So much of the effect of this play hangs on Richard’s journey that if the actor doesn’t bring it to life, it misses the point doesn’t it. And as for staging a key scene in a way that much of the audience can’t see it, that’s unforgivable.

    1. I suspect that people tried out the sight lines without an audience in, Karen when you would have been able to see it from the stalls. However, once you have heads in the way anything that is as low down as this was is automatically lost.

  3. I shall be going to the cinema next week. To refresh my mind a little, I looked back to the Guardian’s review of Kevin Spacey’s Dick II back in 2005. That was also primarily driven by the politics, but Spacey managed to rise above it (I think!). I hope the cameras will let us see that hidden staging (but it’s not fair to those there who can’t see it).

    1. I’m sure you will be fine, Annabel. Anyone in the gallery or circle would have had no problem. It was those of us in the stalls who had the difficulty because it was very low down and you couldn’t see for the heads in between you and the stage.

  4. Even if it wasn’t the best done play, I am still so envious of you that you get to go to such performances. Not that Minneapolis doesn’t have theatres, but we usually only get one Shakespeare production a year, two if we are lucky.

    1. Yes, I do know how lucky I am Stefanie, where theatre is concerned. I’ve been getting on the local bus and taking myself over to Stratford now for more than fifty years and so I suspect that I am super critical and ask for more than most theatre-goers would. I have been spoilt.

  5. Hoping to see it next week – shall come back and let you know what I think if I make it! I’ve been in two minds about seeing it because I’m not convinced by Tennant as a Shakespearean actor, though I’ve liked him on television. I found his Hamlet frenetic.

    1. I think Tennant’s vision is consistent, GC, I just don’t think it’s consistent with Shakespeare’s vision. But there were lots of people there last weekend who clearly thought differently. He got a standing ovation. I’ll be really interested in what you make of it.

  6. My daughter, who is just twenty, said she liked seeing how Richard changed in the play, from someone she couldn’t like to someone she sympathized with.
    I really don’t understand why, if a play is filmed, it can’t be distributed on DVD. There are a lot of Americans who would like to see these plays, and the places where it’s screening are all big cities, plus it’s only showing on weeknights. I can’t drive five hours to the nearest city after work, although I thought about it when I looked up the screenings for Othello.

    1. I don’t know what the RSC’s policy is going to be about DVDs, Jeanne. Richard is the first screening they’ve done and I know that they are very keen to get it into schools. As well as being screened in cinemas it has also been streamed directly into a thousand secondary schools. Given that they may well want to put it DVD later. The National Theatre policy has always been that their work should be seen as part of a large live audience and so at the moment they are not going to DVD. However, there is a new director starting in about a year’s time and he may have a different policy. Also, if the RSC were to go to DVD the NT might feel that they had to follow suit simply on commercial grounds. I’m with you, I would love to have copies of these to enjoy again and again.

  7. Saw the screening and was pretty disappointed. I got tired of all the shouting, wailing and throwing down of gloves. I was hoping for something more nuanced, with variety in speech and delivery. David Tennant”s Richard didn’t take me on a journey. The camp opening characterisation didn’t go anywhere interesting because it disappeared too quickly. There was lots to like among the performances, but I wasn’t as satisfied as I thought I would be. Also I thought the live broadcast was not engaging enough for a cinema audience, you felt like a hanger on at a very interesting party. Apparently Kenneth Branagh in Macbeth was much more immersive. Plus in the cinema we don’t need an interval to be cluttered by stuff about the design, lighting or interviews with the cast, we want a break and want to talk about the play. So I am nitpicking, it was enjoyable, but for what its worth, you have my feedback.

    1. Nice to meet you, Ruth. I can’t say anything about the quality of the live broadcast because I didn’t see it. I do go to the NT live broadcasts because I can’t get down to London easily and some of them woe and some of them don’t. I suppose my line has to be that they are better than nothing. I did see the Macbeth and discussing it with a friend who saw it live we came to the conclusion that there were some things that worked better live and others that were more effective in the streaming. I suspect that’s always going to be the case.

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