I am lucky enough the live very close to an amazing independent cinema and when I saw they would be showing a taped version of Richard II from the Globe theater I couldn’t resist. Despite knowing absolutely nothing about the plot, I’m an English Literature student and Shakespeare done right reminds me why I’m studying this subject.
When I arrived I seemed to be the youngest person there by about 30 years, apart from a couple of kids who I heard earnestly talking to their parents about the themes of the play in the interval. The audience in the Globe, most of whom are stood up throughout, their elbows on the edge of the stage for support, were of a very mixed demographic. I can’t really afford a trip to the Globe right now so I was content with my cinema seat.
The plot is Game of Thrones without the boobs and dragons – a medieval court drama. Duels, banishment, death, vipers in the King’s court, cousins and brothers fighting to be the rightful heir, and a vain and pompous King who meets his downfall with poetic tragedy. The titular character is played by Charles Edwards (Lady Edith’s baby daddy in ‘Downton Abbey’) and he plays it with all the subtlety of a great actor, with great comic timing and a command of the tragic final scenes.
He is first welcomed onto the stage in a rain of golden confetti, the only truly modern touch to a thoroughly traditional production. This herpes of crafts plagues the actors throughout the play, puffing up in great clouds when they stamp their feet or throw down their gauntlets. Reminding us that the kingdom and King they squabble over is nothing more than a show, the characters in general have no knowledge of the peasant class and reside in the gold guilt circle of court life and title-hood. The glitter also adds to the sense tragedy in Richard’s final scenes, as he sits on the floor of his prison cell contemplating his own hands, pieces of glitter lay there on his skin reminding the audience of this character’s grand beginnings.
The layout of the Globe allows for some moments of audience interaction which add to the comic side of the play, and the movement the Globe allows off the stage adds texture to the production. The actors, all unamplified, projected their words with such conviction and authenticity that the audience in the theatre was visibly enthralled. Props were few and far between and never overshadowed the words. The costumes also were traditional and complimentary to the text; Richard remaining in a colour palette of angelic white and gold until the black shroud is placed over him.
This production reminded me why Shakespeare remain the symbol of great English literature, his command of comedy and tragedy is beautiful and his characters are nuanced and human. Despite knowing nothing about the plot or the history I was thoroughly drawn in by a combination of great acting and powerful words.
Overall rating 5/5