Double-edged irony of the Richards

These two productions, which complete the cycle of history plays directed by Terry Hands for the Royal Shakespeare Company, give the saga a grand and glorious opening and bring it to a spectacular conclusion.

Richard II is, by Hands's standards, a relatively simple production. It begins in mediaeval splendour, and ends in darkness. Farrah, whose design for Richard III consists of a ramp suspended on chains and black leather costumes in his favourite bike-boy style, has created here an extravagantly gorgeous court. The colours are gold and green and the style more or less authentically historical.

As this magnificent tableau comes to life, the play focuses on the two principals. David Suchet, as Bolingbroke, is immensely impressive. He moves ruthlessly towards his goal and proves a melancholy, wise, majestic king. Alan Howard's Richard is equally powerful, if more volatile.

Richard II

Richard III uses irony as an aggressive weapon; Richard II uses it in self-defence. Both kings, as played by Howard, are tougher than usual, with the regrettable effect that Richard III's barbs become very blunt instruments. But the surprising and exciting compensation is that Richard II, whose actorish postures and studied conceits often seem more pathetic than effective, emerges as a supremely intelligent ironist, an accomplished diplomat and a great performer. He walks down the sloping side of Flint Castle to the base court, not sorrowing but harshly proclaiming his defiance, and when he smashes the mirror which contained his face the action is one of overt aggression, not self-abasement. This is a battle of the giants.


Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Now! Review, 14.11.80 (Rest of review / Richard 3)


Playing Shakespeare/Richard II