Hair to the throne: David Tennant exhibits impressive extensions in his role as Richard II at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre by Henry Hitchings
Five years on from his electrifying Hamlet, David Tennant returns to the Royal Shakespeare Company to play Richard II. From the moment of its announcement this has been one of the year’s hottest tickets.
Tennant does not disappoint. He delivers a vivid, intelligent performance, at least as mesmerising as the best of his TV work. He is certainly not afraid to make Richard dislikable. Instead of the poetic soul we tend to see, his Richard is irritable. In the early scenes he is petulant and smug.
With fluting voice and waist-length hair (Tennant sports mighty extensions) he is a picture of prissy narcissism. And he skips around the stage like a child who has had too many sweets.
From the outset Tennant’s Richard is excitingly unpredictable and as his authority crumbles he transforms intriguingly from a gilded tyrant into a more vulnerable character — yet one who is capable of bursts of aggression. By the end he is a holy man in a flowing white robe.
Gregory Doran’s production moves slowly for the first hour or so but it is satisfying both visually and dramatically. It also benefits from the strongest RSC cast in a long time.
Tennant’s Richard contrasts nicely with Nigel Lindsay’s robust, manly Bolingbroke. Michael Pennington makes a poignantly eloquent John of Gaunt, while Jane Lapotaire and Marty Cruickshank bring real substance to lesser roles. Oliver Ford Davies deserves a special mention: his Duke of York is an unalloyed delight.
Doran places an unusual emphasis on the king’s cousin Aumerle (Oliver Rix) and it is Richard’s relationship with him — coloured by awkward lust — that defines the production.
This is a clear, detailed and dynamic account of a drama that can often seem glutted with artful rhetoric and ceremonial formality. It is an impressive start to Doran’s campaign to stage all Shakespeare’s plays. Richard II will come to the Barbican in December, as well as being shown in cinemas on November 13.source