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.

Issue 07 of Shakespeare Magazine is out now, celebrating 425 years of Great Shakespeare Actors

Ken Cover 07
Kenneth Branagh is cover star of Shakespeare Magazine 07, in keeping with the issue’s theme of Great Shakespeare Actors.

The venerable Stanley Wells discusses his new book on the subject, handily titled Great Shakespeare Actors, while Antony Sher reveals what it’s like to play Falstaff – the subject of his own new book Year of the Fat Knight.

We also go behind the scenes of the excellent My Shakespeare TV series, while British actress Zoe Waites chats about heading to the USA to play As You Like It’s Rosalind with Washington DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Other highlights include Shakespeare in Turkey, Shakespeare Opera, and the real story of Shakespeare and the Essex Plot.

All this, and the Russian fans who made their own edition of David Tennant’s Richard II

Go here to read Shakespeare Magazine 07 right now.

And don’t forget, you can read all seven issues of Shakespeare Magazine here.

As always, Shakespeare Magazine is completely FREE.