SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE THEATRE
Charles Edwards excels as King Richard, whose divine royalty faces iron-willed rebellion.
Amid a cascade of gold confetti, director Simon Godwin opens this production of Richard II with a coronation scene which provides a glittering reminder that this king was a mere boy when he ascended the throne.
That, at least, provides some excuse for the unseemly and dangerous behaviour that ensued as his reign progressed, eventually alienating even his natural allies, and ending in a spectacular fall from his divinely appointed role.
Charles Edwards makes a mesmerising Richard, whimsical, capricious and utterly self-serving. His mastery of all the comic possibilities of the king’s foibles and callous asides is done with such bright-eyed humour that it’s hard not to have some sympathy with this dangerous charmer, even as he dismisses brave John of Gaunt’s death with his cool,
‘So much for that. Now for our Irish wars:’
His abiding interest in fashion and fabrics – beautifully realised by designer Paul Willis’ sumptuous costumes – is belied by this fatal insistence on going to Ireland in person, but the steely Bolingbroke, played with authority and vigour by David Sturzaker, has become an irresistible force in the meantime.
The abdication scene was considered too incendiary to be played during Elizabeth I’s lifetime, and its power is fully realised here by Edwards and Sturzaker, as Richard and Bolingbroke engage in a tug of war over the handover.
And as Richard finally relinquishes the authority represented by his ‘hollow crown’, he becomes a pitiful creature indeed, his confidence and stature shrivelling before our eyes.
The entire York family shine. Sarah Woodward is a superbly determined Duchess, whose kneeling scene as she begs forgiveness for her rebel son (Graham Butler’s bitchy Aumerle) is one of the dramatic and comic highlights of the production. William Chubb is a lynchpin as York, whose decision to support Bolingbroke proves so decisive.
John of Gaunt is played with both subtlety and passion by William Gaunt. His parting with Bolingbroke, knowing he will never see his son again, is deeply moving in its affectation of diffidence, and the dying man’s assault on the Richard’s record of misrule is delivered with such conviction that it’s no surprise the king considers the threat of beheading a suitable riposte.
Oliver Boot brings a meaty swagger to Mowbray, flinging down his gauntlet with gusto, and Richard’s doom-laden queen Isabel is given a fiery heart by Anneika Rose, though there are some issues with audibility, not aided by the roar of jets flying overhead.
Designer Paul Wills has given the entire set a golden shimmer, including a dusting of gold to the stage itself, which lends Richard’s court a sumptuous, cloying sense of a rule that has over-reached itself.
Although this may not be the most nuanced reading of the play, it’s nevertheless a thrilling production, full of the Globe’s unique energy.
Until Sunday 18 October
To book call +44 (0) 20 7401 9919 or visit www.shakespearesglobe.com
Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London SE1 9DT