Michael Grandage's final play for the Donmar is my second favourite Shakespeare, Richard II (Hamlet is fav, if you are interested). The last time I saw it was in Stratford with Jonathan Slinger in the lead delivering his deposition soliloquy under a stream of sand.
That was more than five years ago but as I studied it for A-Level the speeches are immediately familiar and as a result accessible, comfortable even, like putting on an old pair of favourite jeans.
Grandage has gone traditional. The set - another breathtaking transformation of the Donmar's bijou space - is a weathered wooden balcony and stairs that could have almost been borrowed straight from a medieval castle or cathedral.
The costumes are just as you would imagine (you can see production shots here). Eddie Redmayne's Richard wears predominantly white or a pale, silky blue giving the King the air of delicacy and fashion consciousness.
Richard is a king who enjoys the trappings of the job but not the responsibility. He is inexperienced and ineffectual and reminds me of a modern day super star fed by the hype of his own fame and surrounded by 'yes' men.
Redmayne plays Richard with an obvious relish at being centre of attention. As a man who enjoys and puts much energy into playing with words - it must be difficult not to given the rich material with which to work. He almost gets lost in the pleasure of delivery, the tragedy being that if he put half as much energy into ruling, things might turn out differently.
It's difficult to put my finger on what exactly it is. Despite Richard being a character that brings about his own demise, that demise is nonetheless extremely moving to watch. This production rattles through at a nice pace and it's all very well done with some great performances all round - Andrew Buchan as Bolingbroke and Ron Cooke as the Duke of York add particular weight - but I wasn't quite as moved as I felt I should have been.
Past Richard's have had me in tears but while Redmayne's came almost close at one point it didn't quite deliver the killer emotional punch.
Was there a slight nervousness to the performance that shouldn't have been there? Did he plough too much of the same emotional furrow with not quite enough light and shade to the performance; I've seen Richard's with a little more petulance, sulkiness and vulnerability. Was it just too safe as a production? I just don't know.
It is still in preview so there is room for the production to relax into the flow a bit more. It will be interesting to compare it when I see it again at the end of the month.
I'm going to give it 4 stars because there was still a lot to enjoy.
It runs at the Donmar Warehouse until February 4. Mark Lawson, who was in the audience last night, will be reviewing Richard II tomorrow on Radio 4's Front Row (7 Dec).
PS Can someone please tell me, is it policy that stage blood will never be used at the Donmar? Do they have a porous stage or something? Do the cleaners have it in their contract not to clean up fake blood? Do they not have a washing machine in the costume department? Dry stabbing never fails to disappoint me and I can't recall ever having seen it done any other way at the Donmar.
There are a few second degree connections, Eddie Redmayne was in Glorious 39 with Romola Garai (The Hour), Daniel Flynn who plays the Duke of Gloucester was in the Emporer and the Galilean with the lovely Andrew Scott (Cock) and the cute Michael Marcus was in Jumpy with Tamsin Greig (Ready When You Are Mr McGill)