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A CurtainUp London Review
The usual terminal play is King Lear but Grandage tackled that last year with his magnificent production starring Derek Jacobi. So instead we have Shakespeareís most poignant tragedy of Richard II which sees a king, brought down, deposed and assassinated, played by Eddie Redmayne, an accomplished actor who is not yet 30 years of age.
Redmayneís youth and lack of readiness to rule is the theme of the first act when the king is called upon to judge the dispute between his cousin Henry Bolingbroke (Andrew Buchan) and Thomas Mowbray the Duke of Norfolk (Ben Turner). Grandage makes much of Redmayneís youth and ineptitude as king in the role. Redmayne plays his Richard as a very self conscious monarch, awkward, as if he is having to act how he thinks a king would behave. Richard is nervous, indecisive, changeable, surrounded by gilded and peeling gothic arches with overpowering incense, candlelight and Andrew Corkís chanting music, he clutches at the sceptre.
Remember that Richard came to the throne aged just ten years old, a year after his father the Black Prince died and on the death of his grandfather Edward III. Redmayne creates a very sympathetic figure, even though he gathers round him friends who are shallow and from whom he wins cheap popularity. Running through Richard II is the theme of the divine right of kings, the prediction for the civil war of the Wars of the Roses as Richard dethroned causes instability in the realm.
On Richardís return to England from Ireland, Redmayne enthuses and is excitable, looking more like a startled rabbit rather than a king. Soon he is red with rage at the news of the deaths of his favourites Bushy, Bagot and Green. Like lords in waiting, while Richard talks to Northumberland (Daniel Flynn), Richardís opponents stand at the rear of the stage in partial darkness, shadows on Richardís horizon.
Although Eddie Redmayneís performance is outstanding and unusual, somehow the Donmar stage seemed too small for this courtly royal play. To drum up atmosphere we hear the crowd noises from the lists but I found it hard to suspend disbelief. Ron Cook is an incongruous, loyalties divided Duke of York uncle to both king and deposer, but Sian Thomas gives two fine performances as the Duchess of Gloucester and the Duchess of York. I liked Andrew Buchanís solid Bolingbroke. When he takes the crown from Richard, Richard petulantly snatches it back. Pippa Bennett-Warner impresses as Queen Isabel, gentle and sympathetic.
We wish Michael Grandage well with his new venture and look forward to seeing his new productions.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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