Having seen Richard II in the West End once before and not being very inspired by it, I really only booked to see this production because of Michael Grandage. He always delivers and, as this is his last play as Artistic Director at The Donmar, nothing would keep me away. And am I glad I bought the tickets. It bears no resemblance to the rather tedious interpretation I’d seen and the casting of Eddie Redmayne is a stroke of genius. He is one of those luminous actors who keeps you focused on him whenever he’s on stage. Plus he can act.
I don’t know what it is about The Donmar but every production ( well every one that I’ve seen ) manages to create the right atmosphere and setting. This one was no exception. The scene was immediately set when walking into the wonderful little theatre and seeing King Richard already in place, trance-like on his wooden throne and with the smell of incense in the air. We were entering the medieval world of gothic arches, oak pillars and the amber glow of candlelight. Perfect. Full marks to Designer Richard Kent and David Plater, the Lighting Designer.
The play moves at a cracking pace and with no weak links. The whole cast speak their Shakespearian dialogue as if it’s the most natural thing in the world and, as a result, one always understands what’s happening. I’d seen many of the actors in Michael Grandage’s wonderful King Lear last December, so no wonder he is using them again. Who wouldn’t? It makes perfect sense.
As I mentioned earlier, Eddie Redmayne makes a wonderful Richard. He portrays excellently the King’s hauteur whilst still on the throne and then the frailty when he’s usurped by Henry Bolingbroke, expertly played by Andrew Buchan. In the scene where he is imprisoned Eddie’s Richard discovers emotional depth and self-realisation, which is very moving. There are three performances which are particularly fine, namely Ron Cook as the bumbling Duke of York, who is torn between national duty and family loyalty, Sian Thomas, who is wonderfully moving as the Duchess of Gloucester and Michael Hadley’s raging John of Gaunt.
I’m sure even non Shakespeare-loving theatre goers would enjoy this production and I can’t wait to see what’s next on Michael Grandage’s agenda.