Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 24th February 2022
“a cracker of a Shakespeare production”
We Are Animate presents a smart and snappy Shakespeare – all the power and plotting of the Bard’s historical tragedy in under 90 minutes. The eight strong gender-blind ensemble excels throughout in words and movement. The poetry is clearly spoken with just one Lord misjudging the ability of the intimate space to carry her overly sotto voce delivery. Director Lewis Brown moves his cast well using some dramatic dumb-show elements and funky dance moves between the scenes. A soundtrack (Jordan Wilkes) of disco beats and ambient noise (plus a short snatch of Zadok the Priest) blends well to create mood. The production is beautifully lit too (Jack Channer); an ominous blood-red wash across the space as the audience files in suggests the course of the evening is predetermined.
There is no escaping the importance of the symbol of the hollow crown for it is painted brightly on the movable set blocks and upon the backdrop. A stylish crown – regal and powerful – whilst, at the same time, jaunty and cartoonish.
Which might also go towards describing the King himself. Michael Rivers is a dazzling Richard II dressed to kill in a white suit, crown upon his head. When dressed for war he dons a Superhero breast plate; it’s all for show. He points, gesticulates, swans and shimmies his way around the stage, pouts when displeased. Around him are the Court In-Crowd: the fawning Bushy (Daniel Takefusa), out of sorts Queen Isabella (Nada Babikir), and father and son Duke of York (Lizzy Dive) and Aumerle (Harriet Barrow) both dressed in striking red. Hilary Burns stands out in the role of party pooper John of Gaunt – passionate in the sceptred isle speech – and then doubles as a reliable Bishop of Carlisle. [Note to Stage Manager – please provide Carlisle with a more convincing Bible]. But when Richard exploits the death of Gaunt by depriving Gaunt’s son of his inheritance, he lives (and dies) to regret it.
Enter Richard’s nemesis, Henry Bolingbroke. Fleur De Wit is superb in this role; her femininity a juxtaposition from the manliness we might expect. We see her brain ticking overtime as Henry manoeuvres into position to usurp the crown. By her side is the cold and calculating Lord Northumberland (Daniel Ghezzi) whose sinister delivery judges the atmosphere just right.
This is a cracker of a Shakespeare production. Each scene is lifted by the performances of Rivers and De Wit, ably supported by a strong ensemble. There is ample theatricality within the direction but the emphasis on the poetry shines through. I would happily watch this Richard II again.
Reviewed by Phillip Money
Photography by We Are Animate
Jack Studio Theatre until 5th March
Recently reviewed at this venue:
Bread & Roses Theatre
Reviewed – 22nd August 2018
“this production forgoes the emotional depth of the play and instead gives a simplistic rendition that shies away from the exploration of character”
I once had the misfortune of taking a three hour long Shakespeare exam. It’s not something I’d recommend – but even I will admit that it taught me a few important lessons about Shakespeare’s plays. Namely, that they are a) long, b) many, and c) so complex that analysis of a single scene yields more meaning than can be written down in three hours.
Richard II, though lesser known, is no less interesting to examine than Hamlet or Macbeth, and really deserves more exposure. It’s a shame, therefore, that Joshua Jewkes’ contemporary reimagining does not bring any of its many layers to life. Ostensibly set in the vague world of ‘the modern political landscape’, it follows the demise of King Richard as years of flattery begin to weaken his leadership. His decision to banish his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and reignite conflict in Ireland spark a revolution which is led by friend and foe alike. Though he is undoubtedly vain and tyrannical, the political drama that follows exposes Richard’s vulnerability and, ultimately, his sympathetic nature.
The immediate problem with this production is that this vulnerability is not apparent. Joshua King, who plays Richard, seems somewhat miscast in the role: whilst he does capture Richard’s brazen overconfidence, he does not bring any emotional depth. Richard seems one dimensional, and King’s overhasty delivery means that important moments are almost unnoticeable. The empathetic aspects of his character are never properly expressed; there is no one to truly empathise with.
A second difficulty is presented by the fact that the lines rarely sound meaningful. Too often it sounds as though the actors are reciting words that they have memorised as opposed to expressing the genuine thoughts of a character. Very few of the cast escape this trap, but luckily there are some solid performances which help alleviate these uninspired moments. Melanie Beckley is commanding and powerful as Bolingbroke, whilst Peter Hardingham captures the thoughtful wisdom of John of Gaunt, Henry’s father, very well. But the only consistent performance comes from Hannah Victory as the Duke of York. Victory is utterly convincing throughout, and her impassioned delivery brings the high stakes that are missing elsewhere.
Some aspects of Jewkes’ production do work well. The stage, lined with audience on both sides and bare except for a raised platform, evokes the atmosphere of a claustrophobic court or council chamber. The space is used efficiently, particularly during the well-choreographed and well-executed fight scenes. Jewkes also adapts the text effectively. About an hour is cut from the play’s run time, but the plot is still easy enough to follow and the characterisation is clear and consistent. Ultimately, however, this production forgoes the emotional depth of the play and instead gives a simplistic rendition that shies away from the exploration of character. There are some enjoyable moments, but they are too few and far between truly bring the play or its characters to life.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Bread & Roses Theatre until 25th August
Previously reviewed at this venue