Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Watching the RSC's "Richard II" live on screen

Last night I went to the cinema here in Oxford to watch the live broadcast of the Royal Shakespeare Company's  Richard II - the Clever Boy having spotted a poster for this presentation outside the Odeon
last weekend he decided to treat himself to a bit of culture for the evening.


David Tennant and his role


This was the first such broadcast by the RSC worldwide - but there is plan to offer all 36 First Folio plays in this way over the next few years.

Richard II is a play I have seen before both on television - starting with An Age of Kings on BBC in 1960-61 and then the BBC Shakespeare production in 1979 and stage, with Sir Derek Jacobi as the King, as well as a splendid and memorable open air production at Oriel in 1996. It is set in my particular period of historical interest, and, of course, I come from Pontefract where the King died early in 1400.

As the director Gregory Doran pointed out in a pre-broadcast interiew the play does not take sides in the conflict between the King and Bolingbroke - it carefully shifts the emphasis between them as it progresses, leaving the playgoer or reader to reflect upon the themes that are raised and explored.

In this production the King was played by David Tennant, and with established figures such as
Jane Laportaire as the Duchess of Gloucester and Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt. Other cast members are not so well known, but there was a consistency of performance that made for unity. Oliver Rix's excellent eagerly self-serving Duke of Aumerle/Earl of Rutland reminded me not a little of an Oxford acquaintance of former years who has political aspirations - no names, no pack drill, but my observation is not a very complimentary comparison!

The pace was quick, and used the redesigned RSC theatre with its thrust stage very well - I have not visited the theatre since this reordering took place, so that was quite a revelation.

In his pre-broadcast interview Gregory Doran spoke about David Tennant's ability to speak Shakespeare's words as if they were contemporary, and that he did indeed do effectively. The slight hesitation I have about that is that at times the King sounded too shrill, verging on the hysterical even, and in the early scenes his voice perhaps lacked the magisterial tone one might expect from a KIng with so clear an idea of his innate authority. The effect was to make the King sound more lightweight than the subtleties of the play demand.

The production was costumed more or less in the style of the Ricardian period, and clearly a great effort had been made to provide David Tennant with a red wig or hair extensions on the lines of King Richard's appearance in some manuscript illuminations from circa 1390.

David Tennant as Richard II in Richard II. Photo by Kwame Lestrade

The King becomes aware of his power crumbling on his return from Ireland
Bad hair day?

The effect, and whatever its historical accuracy for the years 1398-1400, was perhaps unduly luxurient, if not OTT. Similarly some of the King's ourrfits were somehow lacking the splendour which we know the real King affected, whilst the entirely unhistorical, but theatrically crucial deposition scene, found David Tennant in what looked like a modern cassock-alb and barefoot. The effect was odd more than dramatic to my mind - unless it was somehow a visual reference to depictions of the Passion of Our Lord.

David Tennant as Richard II and the cast of Richard II. Photo by Kwame Lestrade

The deposition scene
Bad heir day?


Perhaps predictably there was one ecclesiastical costume howler - the Bishop of Carlisle was provided with a splendid crozier and mitre, and a vestment that was a combination of cope and chasuble... very curious to the observant eye.

The production ended with a twist that was daring and one which I will not reveal to spoil the effect for anyone who goes to see the play. From Decvember 9th until January 25th it is on at the Barbican in London.

Overall I think I agree very much with the points made in his Daily Telegraph review by Dominic Cavendish which can be read here.

Notwithstanding the points I have made this was nevertheless an excellent production that was very well worth seeing, and which I would recommend to others - and all for £13. I shall definitely avail myself of futurte opportunities to watch the RSC live at the cinema.
One final irony - this , the most poetic of Shakespeare's Histories, is about a King who in reality, according to a contemporary biographer, the monk of Evesham, spoke abruptly and with a stammer.

1 comment:

Bishop Williamson's Ferret said...

An otherwise interesting review marred by one of the worst puns this reader has ever had the misfortune to encounter.