Pros: Strong, relatable staging with recognisable characterisations
Cons: Some of the choices meant that some of the drama was lost
Richard II, here in an updated version set in the heart of the House of Commons, maps the monarch’s fall from power, abdication and eventual death at the hands of those he once governed. As it can be argued that the power of a country as well as the majority of its drama now lie in the hands of its government, the decision to stage this production in the political realm works very well.
The modern political world is one of photo opportunities, 24-hour news and official looking power-suit-and-lanyard combo’s. This is reflected in the design for this production. A cross between a governmental office and a television studio, the set gives a sense that the politicians on show are never far away from public spectacle. The live camera feed is also used well to frame political debates and allow characters to soliloquise in a more conventional fashion. All in all, the world created on stage is an all too recognisable one. A ticking clock, showing the current real world time, has the effect of a countdown timer, slowly ticking away the seconds until Richard’s demise.
Tim Delap as the ill-fated Richard portrays a strong leader with a PR-honed familiarity. His cool exterior and modern managerial tone belie the turmoil brewing underneath. Hermione Gulliford plays a Bolingbroke who is at home in this world and makes light work of Richard’s demise.
The scene in which Richard is called forth to abdicate the crown is a particular joy. His unwillingness to give up his last vestige of power is one of the few laughs in what could otherwise be quite a dry couple of hours. Only moments later there’s the seemingly opportunistic killing of the deposed monarch, which comes as quite a shock after so much political speechmaking.
The only problem with these characterisations and the context of the play in general is that it short changes us on some of the drama. Although no one will deny the political world is a cutthroat one, we lose some of the danger and bared teeth. Tension and threat are sometimes lost in officiousness.
This Richard II portrays a detailed political world and is particularly pertinent in the run-up to the London Mayoral elections. The clever use of technology really adds to the staging and strong performances mean that this production, although perhaps not the most powerful one, has a slickness and charm about it. We must all thank our lucky stars that no Prime Minister can claim divine right. I have a feeling I may have seen the outcome.
Author: William Shakespeare
Directors: Jack Gamble and Quentin Beroud
Producers: Dippermouth, Hartshorn-Hook Productions, the Arcola Theatre and the Arts Theatre
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Booking Link: http://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/richard-ii/2016-05-03/
Booking Until: 7 May 2016