The first production in the RSC's project of staging all Shakespeare's history plays is a remarkably clear and affecting version.
Samuel West has the rare talent of making one fall a little in love with whatever character he is playing. Here, his King Richard is not intrinsically feeble or unbalanced, but a young man with a similarly young court circle who simply proves too light for the well orchestrated plans of David Troughton's Machiavellian Bolingbroke; when Richard realises too late that there is contention, Bolingbroke has already mapped out the endgame, and all the king can do is try bitterly to expose the wickedness of what is in effect a coup d'état.
Director Steven Pimlott echoes and pre-echoes certain resonant lines in various characters' mouths throughout the proceedings, to suggest that kingship is a burden imposed rather than a prize to be seized. The production is played out in a reinvented Pit space: a blank, end-on white box designed by David Fielding, almost literally a tabula rasa on which the events and attributes of the various plays in repertoire can be projected just like the single-colour washes of Simon Kemp's lighting plot. The cumulative effect on the play is a minor revelation.
Written for divento.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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