9 October 2001 WOS Rating: To the woods! The premiere of Richard II has, it appears, spooked both Court and City where it is seen as a blueprint for the treason of the Earl of Essex. Shakespeare has hot-footed it to sanctuary in the forest, pausing only to pick up his company's costume hamper to provide him with disguises. In pursuit are a puritan from the Council and a seemingly androgynous emissary from the Court - though in spite of much flashing of sword and daggers their precise intentions for the hapless scribe are not altogether clear.
What ensues is on one level a glorious romp. Shakespeare shuffles masks and costumes as he tries to make the forest his theatre and evade, then manipulate, his persecutors. Meanwhile the Court emissary - who has arrived en travesti - reveals herself as a woman, dons a frock and gives herself (as she thinks) to the Lost Prince (Will). He then transmogrifies into an Old Woman, "offering me a womanly ear after he tupped me in the bushes."
Shakespeare, for his part, is horrified at what he's done ("I've jumped the Virgin Queen!"), when he had been trying to make his pursuers fall for each other. Confused? Well, there's much more, including the physical evocation of the god Pan to underscore the menace of the forest, in sharp contrast to the sylvan idyll so familiar in the bard's pastoral moments. Indeed, writer
Phil Smith gives us a script richly replete with Shakespearean resonances turned on their heads - including an echo of Titania and Bottom, as the puritan is transformed into a bear but still doesn't get the girl. Itís a script full of wit which constantly reflects on the art/nature dichotomy but which at times becomes more wordily portentous than its narrative can sustain.
Fine Time Fontayne and his designer Ali McCaw bring more resonances too, with borrowings from commedia dell'arte and panto thrown in for ballast. Itís a small-scale show with a cast of three ([Sandra Hunt, John Davitt and Nigel Collins]) all acting their socks off with admirable energy. However, this isnít a work with great psychological insights, but is huge on theatricality, with an epilogue promising "no more ill-judged performances of Richard II" - which is part-Shakespeare and part-panto-walkdown.
Ian Watson (reviewed at Driffield Town Theatre)
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