By Shelley Marsden
“I wanted some big hitters in these parts”, Gregory Doran said recently about casting David Tennant as Richard II – three years after the Doctor Who actor’s runaway success as Hamlet.
He’s certainly got it. Keen to retain the tradition of staging Shakespeare’s history plays in their entirety (he has a six-year plan to put on everything the Bard has written), he told The Spectator: “I want to do them in sequence, though to me Richard II is a great lyric tragedy in its own right, not a prequel to Henry IV.’
The theatre director, who was brought up in an Irish Catholic family in Huddersfield, went from playing parts at the RSC to becoming its head honcho – and he’s already making a big impact.
One of the shiniest elements of this RSC production is David Tennant’s hair, and it takes a while to concentrate on anything else that’s going on as his effeminate King uses his locks to great dramatic effect, tossing them from side to side.
Tennant’s lanky, chiselled looks are made for this ethereal role of a King more interested in his own reflection than his countrymen, and his piercing stare and flowing dress help bring Richard II to life. From Christ-like to boyishly coy, Tennant’s king sends men to their graves with an effete flick of the wrist in this, surely one of his most captivating performances to date.
A strong supporting cast means the play never lags. Nigel Lindsay as Richard’s arch enemy Bolingbroke is the polar opposite of the king; solid (a little dull) and not someone you would ever want to be pitched against in a fight.
The stage design, based on long gold chords as curtains (they look like mystical, golden harp strings) is simple but gorgeous to look at, and Doran’s staging lays out the story in a way that makes it remarkably easy to follow.
Richard II is at the Barbican Theatre until January 25, and will be followed by the two parts of Henry IV next year. See www.barbican.org.uk.
By Shelley Marsden