Richard II at the Barbican
The long-awaited transfer of the RSC’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard II starring David Tennant has arrived. And ultimately, to cut the small talk, it does not disappoint.
Opening with the most gracefully ephemeral three-woman soprano choir, the tone is set – distinctly grand and haunting even before the doors at the end of each aisle swing shut, immersing you entirely in the first act. The set is equally as triumphant, with projections of Westminster Abbey-esque architecture on floor-to-ceiling columns made up of shimmering gold threads. Although sounding intricate and imposing it works rather simply, with only a descending metal balcony and projection variations to mark scene changes.
The title role of King Richard will be the most talked of, if only because everyone’s favourite Scottish Doctor Who is playing him. David Tennant, having previously played the lead in RSC’s Hamlet to much critical acclaim back in 2008, shines once again in his royal role. His pale, gaunt features are ensconced in floor length gowns and highlighted by wavy, waist-length brunette locks. He could be described as a better dressed yet slightly effeminate Jesus but to put it like this would be doing the thoroughness of the costume department a disfavour.
What comes as a slight surprise is just how great all the cast are in their roles. Perhaps because the major selling point of this production is Tennant perched on a throne with a staff, we expect this to be the overriding experience of the night.
Instead we see the supporting characters give Tennant a run for his money, proving that there is no such thing as a single “star of the show”. Oliver Ford Davies and Marty Cruickshank, who play the Duke and Duchess of York, serve to heighten the emotional complexity of the play with some well-timed marital humour, along with displays of extreme desperation and parental determination. The director Gregory Doran states that Shakespeare’s plays provide a “360 degree view of what it is to be human”; certainly the familial aspect of this is achieved by Davies and Cruickshank.
This production is the first to mark the new partnership between the Barbican and Stratford-upon-Avon’s RSC, a partnership that will see all of Shakespeare’s plays performed at least once in the next six years in locations around the country. Celebrating both the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 2014 and the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016, Richard II aims to inspire its audiences to see more RSC work in the near future – and it certainly does just that.
Richard II is at the Barbican Theatre until 25th January 2014. For further information or to book, visit the theatre’s website here.