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Review: David Tennant is an unlikeable Richard II

_65464812_davidtennant_richardWanted to headline this post 'David Tennant is a prick in Dick II' but it felt a little bit like something the subs on The Sun would come up with. It does, however, succinctly sum up his turn in the RSC's latest production of Shakespeare's deposition drama Richard II, which is currently in preview at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon.

I've @Polyg to thank for 'prick' which she quickly offered up as the perfect description while I was groping around for a suitable word to sum up the portrayal of the King as we talked afterwards. Tennant's Richard is the most unlikeable I've seen.

This is no naive and delicate poet, the Ben Whishaw-style in the BBC's version last year. Tennant's is a Richard who has let the entitlement of being King since he was 10-years-old go to his head. With power comes great responsibility - as someone, somewhere once said - but he's just forgotten the responsibility bit.

His bad choices which lead to his downfall are not so much misguided as born out of a spoilt arrogance. The real Richard II gave his friends power and influence as a response to years being beholden to his aged protectors. Tennant's Richard relies heavily on his favourites turning to them for approval or encouragement.

He's been given Jesus-like flowing locks, emphasising his status as God's representative on earth and affording him the opportunity for an occasional haughty flick of the hair. He holds the sceptre and orb with a feminine grace that reminded me of paintings I've seen of Elizabeth I and uses kisses as a whimsical power play.

In contrast the manner and appearance of  Lindsay's Bolingbroke matches the language in his speeches - sturdy, strong and authoritative. He commands where Richard had pleaded, dispenses a terminal justice without hesitation and judiciously spares others.

His return from banishment seems far more calculated than merely returning to claim his lands. After the way Richard behaves, particularly in the earlier parts of the play, Bolingbroke's behaviour is understandable.

And yet, Tennant's portrayal  of the King is still somehow sympathetic. The later speeches may not tease the tear ducts like other Richards but there is a sense of a man being unjustly slaughtered, particularly with director Greg Doran's added little twist of the knife in the final scenes.

Live music and singing forms an atmospheric back drop to this medieval-set production which shies away from delicacy. Three sopranos create an almost haunting sound track, their choral tunes emphasising the role religion has in state affairs. It is not something that is repeated in Bolingbroke's scenes as he rises to power. A floating walk-way above the stage and pit-like cell further add to the religious metaphors.

Otherwise this is simply staged, the action speaking louder than props and sets. The supporting cast is solid with Oliver Rix of Cardenio fame putting in a good turn as Aumerle.

This didn't quite have the wow factor that David Tennant's Hamlet had a five years ago but it is nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable and extremely solid production, one that bears reflection well. Will be back to see it again in a couple of weeks when there is a post performance Q&A with some of the cast and I'm already looking forward to it.

Richard II runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until November 16 and then transfers to London's Barbican Theatre for a limited run.


There are a few second degree connections but my favourite is Mr Tennant was in Much Ado About Nothing with Adam James who was in The Pride in New York with Mr W.