Charles Edwards plays the unfortunate king in a glittering yet thought-provoking Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe

[Images by Johann Persson for shakespeare’s Globe]

Simon Godwin’s sumptuous production begins with the golden coronation of a boy-king, the future Richard II, the coronation reminding us of the fragile nature of power in a world of court theatrics.

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Richard II (Charles Edwards) is noble yet also delightfully petulant, a contrast to the masculine, clad-in-black Henry Bolingbroke (David Sturzaker). But the production does not hinge on facile oppositions, instead it emphasises the complexity of royal politics. And in the gage throwing scene the ridiculous nature of court factions comes alive, with gloves flying on and off stage.

William Gaunt is a tour-de-force as the ageing John of Gaunt, and Richard’s cruel reaction to his impassioned dying speech is beautifully executed. Richard’s flippancy fades into despair as he loses his hold on power to an ambitious Bolingbroke.

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Anneika Rose plays Queen Isabel with energy. However, the director leaves the ambiguities of her marriage to Richard largely unexplored, opting instead for conventional shows of conjugal tenderness.

The final imprisonment scenes are tastefully done, and Richard is presented with the same wooden horse he held in his boy-coronation. His pathetic reaction to this old toy is particularly poignant.

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The Globe’s thrust stage makes for an intimate proximity with the actors during many of the ‘high’ scenes. The set design by Paul Wills, incorporating the standards of Richard II and Bolingbroke, is evocative of the deeply visual aspect of medieval power. The music, composed by Stephen Warbeck, is also fittingly stately and regal.

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Despite these courtly elements the production also underlines the play’s human aspects, full of foibles and folly. The comic scenes in the garden add warmth, the actors utilising their proximity to the groundlings. Delighting the audience at the end, William Chubb and Sarah Woodward, as the Duke and Duchess of York, make much of their ridiculous pleading for their son, the Duke of Aumerle (Graham Butler).

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As we walked away from the Globe, stepping over the golden confetti strewn on the ground, we realised with surprise that Shakespeare’s words still resonated with us today in their exploration of nationality and identity.

Richard II was staged at Shakespeare’s Globe, London from 11 July – 18 October 2015.