By Catherine Vonledebur
David Tennant’s effeminate, enigmatic Richard II is bisexual. He has long mahogany hair, wears nail polish and likes looking at himself in mirrors.
This is in stark contrast to his strong, macho cousin Bolingbroke Nigel Lindsay, who challenges Thomas Mowbray to a duel in Coventry over the Duke of Gloucester’s death. The king banishes them both from England, but Bolingbroke returns with a rebel army.
In Richard II Shakespeare gives an intimate psychological portrait of a deposed medieval king.
Former Dr Who star Tennant, whose run as Hamlet in 2008 was a sell-out, gives an intriguing and intelligent performance as the flawed ruler.
A flippant sarcasm and vain, hard-hearted arrogance is most pronounced when he steals the land and wealth of his uncle, John of Gaunt, to fund an Irish war, just minutes after his death.
But the mask drops on the walls of Flint Castle where Richard starts to lose his grip on power and a softer, gentler side to his character is revealed as he tenderly kisses his tearful young cousin Aumerle – Oliver Rix - on the lips.
There is much religious symbolism in Gregory Doran’s excellent production. One of the most thrilling scenes is the coronation of Bolingbroke as Henry IV.
Wearing a long, white gown and arms outstretched Christ-like Richard, who would rather have time to grieve, demands his cousin “Seize the crown” out of his hands.
Stephen Brimson Lewis’ set design is magnificent. The play opens with three angelic sopranos and a trumpet fanfare in Westminster Abbey - ingeniously achieved by light projections.
But for me it is the veteran actors who provide a real emotional resonance, humour and humanity - Michael Pennington as the emotional John of Gaunt reeling at the loss of his banished son, Oliver Ford-Davies, the scatty, humorous Duke of York confused by divided loyalties; and Marty Cruickshank as his “unruly” wife.
Jane Lapotaire returning to the RSC for the first time since her brain haemorrhage in 2000, is incredibly moving as the grief-stricken Duchess of Gloucester wanting revenge for the murder of her dead husband. Draping herself over his coffin, her cry “But Thomas, my dear Lord, my life, my Gloucester” is heartbreaking.
It is brilliant that the RSC is streaming the play live into schools on November 15 – I just hope pupils in my old secondary school in Flint, North Wales, will get to see it and discover the historic and literary significance of the forgotten castle ruins on the outskirts of a town, where two blocks of flats, Richard and Bolingbroke Heights stand side-by-side…source