By Ian Hughes
DAVID Tennant steps back onto the RSC stage - five years after his fine Hamlet - to take on the role of that most vacillating of kings, Richard II, who try as he might, ultimately proves too weak to hold onto his crown.
His days in the Tardis may be a whole other Dr behind him now, but there has still been much pomp and ceremony around Tennant's return to centre stage, even though he had long since proved himself a more than capable Shakespearean - long before the fanclub gathered screaming at the stage door.
Tennant - as with Hamlet, under the directorship of Greg Doran - sets off as though he's in a hurry to be somewhere else. Lines are delivered with an aloof impatience at Gatling-gun speed. As with a marathon runner who goes off too fast, one fears he will never be able to keep up the pace, but this flowing haired king is measured to a tee, and really shines when he realises the game's up. His death of kings speech is a pin-drop moment - in a play featuring some of the most lyrical verse in the canon - after he is literally brought to earth with a bump knowing the crown is lost.
Essentially the see-saw story of the rise of Bolingbroke, the taciturn opportunist, against the fall of all-talk Richard, Bolingbroke can be often prove a rather dull and leaden, but there's a bold no nonsense confidence to Nigel Lindsay's portrayal, which brings out the best of Tennant in the deposition scene.
Tennant does not have the spotlight to himself though, and some older hands shine, notably Oliver Ford Davies, who steals the laughs as the Duke of York with Meldrew-like misery, and when Marty Cruickshank as the Duchess of York battles against him as she pleads for the life of her son to the newly-crowned Bolingbroke, it threatens to overshadow Richard's impending demise.
Played out on a set which is sparse even by recent RSC standards, Doran saves the RST fireworks for the finale, as the stage rises Thunderbirds-esque to reveal Richard's subterranean prison cell, as he recognises “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”.
A production pretty much in period costume and with beautiful original medieval-like music by Paul Englishby, Doran's production does not however feel like an old school divine right of kings Richard. It's a production with a resonance today in a world still full of despotic leaders clinging to power by whatever means necessary, long after they have lost the support of the people (if that is they ever had it).
Richard II runs until November 16. The production will also be screened lives in cinemas across the UK on November 13.
Read more: David Tennant as Richard II, RSC, Stratford-on-Avon | Stratford Upon Avonsource