So, last week Andrea and I schlepped off to Stratford to see David Tennant take on the role of Richard II.
It is not one of Shakespeare’s most famousest plays of all time. I suspect I should get around to writing my own version of it soon, but as I am still three paragraphs into improving Macbeth and have been for six months, it may have to wait.
I confess to having a soft spot for Richard II.
I was lucky enough to see all the plays in Shakespeare’s history cycle a few years ago when the RSC staged them, and Richard II with the wonderful Jonathan Slinger as Richard was my first taste of them, and it was a magnificent and wonderful thing.
Tennant had a lot to live up to.
Then I saw Rupert Goold’s version of Richard II in the BBC’s Hollow Crown series on television with Richard played by the equally fabulous Ben Wishaw with the stunning Rory Kinnear as Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV in waiting as it were), and that was also a magnificent and wonderful thing.
Tennant suddenly had a lot more to live up to.
And I’m sorry to say – he didn’t quite do it in my opinion.
Not because he is not a brilliant actor – he is. He is mesmerising to watch, and his command of the language is brilliant. He gave great Richard II in many ways.
I think, for me, the fault was in the direction. It was too close to the Rupert Goold Richard, in which Ben Wishaw does a marvellous job of making Richard both effete and somehow Christlike whilst also showing that he is clearly as mad as a box of frogs, but we must forgive him because of his coddled and delicate disposition.
Tennant plays the same Christlike figure, but it doesn’t really suit him. Firstly he was wearing the most Godawful wig, which was so execrable in fit and general execution that when he got near to me – which he did – several times, the urge to reach over and lop a few inches off the hairpiece was incredibly strong. It was a very distracting wig which he would have been better served without.
N.B. If you look at the comments below you will find that DT is in fact not wearing a wig here, but his own hair with extensions. This, in my opinion, is worserer – because it looks like a wig, and it’s still seriously distracting hair. Sorry DT – but I can’t like it at all.
Tennant is also just not a very convincing Jesus. He’s too mercurial, too jittery, too knowing and not at all Christlike. He plays Christ the cynic, Christ the puller of wool over people’s eyes, and it didn’t work for me at all.
It was still a great performance. I’ve seen him four times now, and he’s never given a bad one. It was just not the perfect performance it could have been.
Then there was the rest of the cast, which were patchy, to say the least. I found Henry Bolingbroke particularly troubling, as he was a bit shouty, and a bit square and a bit too much like a rather fat Bergerac wearing chain mail.
The play depends upon the play of power between Richard, the anointed king who claims it is his divine right to be king, whether he makes a pig’s ear of it or not, and Bolingbroke, who is the usurper, standing in the wings, waiting for his moment. You have to believe that the balance of power teeters between them with equal right on both sides, which is what makes the play so interesting. You have to believe that Bolingbroke is a worthy opponent to Richard, or the play falls down.
I never believed in Bolingbroke. He never had an iota of sympathy from me from the moment he uttered his first line, shouting and shouting on the stage like a man at a cattle market trying to outbid his rival for a prize pig.
Having said all that, if you can wangle a ticket, which is about as likely as a hen sprouting teeth, you should go. It’s an interesting play with some beautiful and poetic lines – some of the best in the entire works, in my opinion. The staging is fabulous, and Tennant is always worth the ticket money, even if he’s only lounging about opening a packet of crisps.
If you haven’t seen the Rupert Goold production, you will certainly enjoy it more, as you won’t have anything that’s like it to compare it to either.
And I’m notoriously fussy when it comes to theatre, so don’t be put off by me.
Go and see it if you can, and tell me what you think.