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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Pennington’

The opening image and sound are simply beautiful. A cathedral created by projections onto shimmering ‘screens’, three sopranos chanting heavenly music, the distraught Duchess of Gloucester crouched over her late husbands coffin. One of the best things about this production is its visual beauty and simplicity, in period costumes with very little else. Well, apart from that hair.

Despite the fact he really wasn’t interested in being king, Richard lasted longer than the ones before or after – 22 years in fact – but Shakespeare decided to concentrate on a short period at the end of his reign, so we get the events unleashed by Gloucester’s murder as his cousin Bolingbroke seeks to go beyond restoring his lands to challenge the monarch, who by now seems somewhat disengaged. It’s a more complex story than the other history plays, focusing more on the psychology of the characters than politics and battles and this production succeeds in that sense.

My problem with it was the pacing of the first three acts. I’ve never known so many pauses or so much silence in a Shakespeare play. During the Duchess of Gloucester’s scene with her brother-in-law, John of Gaunt, they were so long I thought Jane Lapotaire had forgotten her lines. When Richard and the Duke of Amerle were having a tender moment, it lasted beyond the point of being comfortable and I was convinced some stage machinery had failed and we were waiting for the stage manager to come on and say ‘because of a technical fault….’ This all slows it down, the 105 minutes of the first half dragged and my mind started wandering.

Though David Tennant is very good, this is no star vehicle. It’s one of the best RSC ensembles I’ve ever seen, with luxury casting of seasoned Shakespearians like Michael Pennington, Oliver Ford Davies and Jane Lapotaire in relatively small roles. The one who impressed me most, though, was the least experienced Shakespearian, Nigel Lindsay, who brought great complexity to Bolingbroke. I was also impressed by Sean Chapman’s passionate Northumberland and Oliver Rix’s performance as Aumerle, a role I think is very difficult to pull off.

There has been a tendency of late to camp up Richard. Tennant’s isn’t as camp as Kevin Spacey’s, but I really don’t think that voice and hair would have been evident at the time and it brings a touch of implausibility to this reading. Like all Greg Doran’s work, it’s elegant and lucid, but safe. It’s a good production, but it doesn’t match or better the Donmar’s with Eddie Redmayne and Andrew Buchan.

My second ex-Doctor Who in four days, both proving you can command a stage again after a lengthy bit of telly, with the benefit of full houses regardless  – but in these cases, deserved too.

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