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Casting Jonathan Bailey as Richard II is an inspired decision

The production opens early next year

Jonathan Bailey, © Jason Bell
Jonathan Bailey, © Jason Bell

I’ve been pining for a big, new production of Richard II for a while – the tale of a ruler fundamentally incapable to lead a divided nation, betrayed and cast down while everything they take for granted crumbles: their enemies possibly fuelled by hatred or bigotry. It has always been my favourite Shakespeare history play. What happens when someone is unable to achieve the one thing expected of them from birth?

Over five years have passed since Shakespeare’s Globe’s brilliant take of the show, led by the inimitable Adjoa Andoh. And now, donning the same crown for a new production under the Bridge Theatre’s Nick Hytner will be Andoh’s Bridgerton co-star Jonathan Bailey – announced this morning.

It’s a brilliant pairing (kudos also to casting director Robert Sterne). Hytner directs Shakespeare with pinpoint clarity – he ratcheted up the political thrills in Julius Caesar, before injecting a dose of queer joy into A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His Richard II isn’t set to use the same immersive techniques as either of those two stagings, but is set to be a blend of traverse/in-the-round, eschewing the proscenium and thrusting the power wrangling into the audience.

Hytner has also worked with Bailey before – with the Cock star playing Cassio in Hytner’s landmark staging of Othello at the National Theatre in 2013. Funnily, actors playing Cassio on main London stages are often jettisoned to international success – it was the same role that secured Tom Hiddleston his casting as Loki in the Marvel Cinematic universe. Now where did he end up?

Bailey may also be set for glitzy Hollywood superstardom, with Wicked, Jurassic World and more beckoning, but he seems keen to reassert his theatrical roots (he is a former Gavroche, of course). In that sense, he is following in the footsteps of Andrew Scott, Imelda Staunton, Daniel Kaluuya or Hannah Waddingham – stars who cut their teeth on this side of the Atlantic and remain keen to support our stage eco-system. He seems to be a note-perfect choice for the role, given how well he nails the sense of suave yet occasionally insufferable entitlement in Bridgerton, as well as the frantic energy on show in productions like Company.  

He’s also the third Bridgerton brother to appear on UK stages in the last 18 months – following Luke Newton in The Shape of Things and WhatsOnStage Award winner Luke Thompson in A Little Life and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Make no mistake – Bailey’s turn in Richard II will bring a whole fresh, likely young audience to a rarely staged Shakespeare play – and at a time when drama education is floundering, the chance to make the Bard cool must always be celebrated.