Review: Richard II, Barbican

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”

I am aware that I’m flying in the face of received wisdom here but I really wasn’t a fan of the RSC’s Richard II. The announcement of David Tennant in the leading role ensured its sell-out success (regardless of the actual strength of the production) and its transfer to the Barbican after its initial run in Stratford-upon-Avon likewise proved to be the quickest of sellers. Its critical notices have been close to superlative too, so the level of expectation was certainly high.

But for all of this, I found Gregory Doran’s production to be largely quite dull, it hardly ever provoked excitement or even piqued my interest in the slow-moving telling of its tale of regime change and the corrosive effects of absolute monarchy on the individual. The inferences of a Christ-like demeanour to this King are heavily played and Tennant laps this up, irascible and irritable throughout and increasingly given to thoughts of his own divinity. Intentional perhaps, but hard to like.

What the show does has it has in spades though, most notably in a trifecta of glorious supporting performances from real denizens of the theatrical establishment. Michael Pennington’s John of Gaunt, Jane Lapotaire’s Duchess of Gloucester and Oliver Ford Davies’ Duke of York are the kind of luxury casting choices a company like the RSC ought to be able to command and not a one of them disappoint – Pennington’s anger and a distraught Lapotaire proving two definite highlights.

And Nigel Lindsay’s bruiser of a Bolingbroke was also a pleasure. But when even homoerotic overtones – as in Richard’s relationship to his cousin Aumerle, the pleasing-to-the-eye Oliver Rix – don’t make me perk up, as it were, it is evidence that a production has completely lost me. Whether it was the overloaded December diary that had me exhausted, unreasonably high expectations exacerbated by hyperbole or just personal taste, this was just not my kind of Dick. 

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 25th January

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