Pros: Magnificent, awe inspiring surroundings complement a fine cast.
Cons: As always, a church venue gets incredibly drafty as the evening wears on.
Great St. Barts could not be a more perfect venue to present Richard II; founded in 1123, the church provides a stunning backdrop to the boy king who lost his grip of the crown as an adult. The natural acoustics of the church give the story an eerie realism that would be difficult to capture in a conventional theatre venue. The interior feels immediately familiar, and comes as no surprise that it’s a featured location in countless film and television shows, including Four Weddings and a Funeral and Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. Very briefly, the story tells of Richard, who took the throne aged ten when his grandfather Edward III died. His early years as king were dominated by a series of governing councils in preference to regency led by his uncle, John of Gaunt. In later years, Richard’s dependence on a select band of courtiers caused discontent, and control was seized by a group of aristocrats known as the Lords Appellant. Richard took revenge by executing or exiling many appellants. Following the death of John of Gaunt, Richard disinherited Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, who had previously been exiled. The scene was therefore set for a final showdown between the royal cousins.
The real challenge for any historical play is to bring the subject matter to life; the Scena Mundi Theatre broadly complete the task. Richard II can occasionally be hard work and I found myself making comparisons with other plays in the Bard’s canon of work; it lacks the deep intrigue of Richard III or the stirring patriotism of Henry V. But then again, it does carry the beautiful poem ‘this sceptered isle’, delivered by John of Gaunt in Act II. The cast were on fine form and gave the play a much needed flourish, adding flesh to bone of a less than engaging king. Pip Brignall was excellent as the camp, unhinged Richard II; Graham Pountney was a wonderfully controlled John of Gaunt and Edmund Sage Green displayed calm authority as Henry of Bolingbroke. Shakespeare’s history plays are always a question of preference, and I am perhaps swayed by lavish big screen treatments given to the aforementioned R3 and H5; but this is a deft production that manages to breathe life into characters that have previously left me cold. Much respect is therefore due to cast and creatives alike; I even managed a quick pre-show chat with Henry of Bolingbroke, always a bonus!
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Celia Dorland
Producer: Scena Mundi Theatre Company
Booking link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/scenamundi
Booking until: 3 July 2015