Review Round-Ups

Did Simon Russell Beale reign supreme in the Almeida's Richard II?

Simon Russell Beale stars in Joe Hill-Gibbins’ filleted version of Shakespeare’s play

The Tragedy of King Richard the Second
The Tragedy of King Richard the Second
© Marc Brenner

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage


"Some scenes (beautifully choreographed, with characters pinging from the walls) have a visceral energy… But Joe Hill-Gibbins strips so much out of the play there is not much left to cling onto. The programme notes suggest that he wants it to read like a study of contemporary power, where people's poor decisions about the limits of their authority breed chaos."

"But it doesn't quite feel like that while it is unfolding. I am not sure if you would follow what is going on if you didn't already understand the play quite well. And the decision to make Bolingbroke (Leo Bill) behave like a spoilt and frightened child, a brawling boy who is just as unable to exert control as the vain and changeable Richard makes nonsense of the play's careful appositions."

"What saves the night, however, is the power of Simon Russell Beale's performance. He can convey as much with the flicker of a wary eye, the slight movement of his chin, as any directorial intervention. He speaks the language as rapidly as the rest of the cast, but never loses his grip on its shape and heft. He finds in the words the anger, pride, narcissism and finally the overwhelming sense of failure that define his character and the themes of the play. "

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out


"The Tragedy of King Richard the Second is a depiction of a rudderless England in complete and utter chaos, and Hill-Gibbins's drolly avant-garde staging and copious cuts only serve to lob petrol on the flames of allegory. ‘That England, that was wont to conquer other, hath made a shameful conquest of itself' comments John of Gaunt, at one point, and I think anything more would frankly be a touch on-the nose. "

"Sheared to an hour and 40 minutes, Hill-Gibbins's production wilfully hacks out about an hour of cushioning exposition and characterisation, leaving it's a roiling sea of incident, underpinned by Peter Rice's jarring sound design. Occasionally it seems to be both deliberately taking the piss out of some of the play, while simultaneously pointing to it as visionary, which is really quite a balancing act."

Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail


"Simon Russell Beale, yes, is far too old for a Richard. And yet, as this fallen king bleakly ponders his errors, the casting makes sense. Few do quiet, eloquent despair as well as Mr Russell Beale. "

"By this point the king has been drenched by pails of water and blood, and soiled, literally, by buckets of earth."

"The floor of the riveted steel box, in which just eight actors in drab rehearsal clothes have performed the various roles, has been made sticky with destruction. Welcome to an England torn by political turmoil. Well, well."

"We gain: a clever sense of the gawping of political onlookers as courtiers tiptoe round the edge of the set, striking tableaux of eavesdropping gossip; the wall-battering pressure of events; the confusion around state affairs. It acquires the artistry almost of choreography."

Simon Russell Beale in The Tragedy of King Richard the Second
Simon Russell Beale in The Tragedy of King Richard the Second
© Marc Brenner

Anne Treneman, The Times


"And now [Joe Hill-Gibbins] tackles Richard II, turning what is often seen as a history play into a full-on tragedy for all to see. I'm afraid it really does feel like modern politics, Brexit but with kings.

"Russell Beale was excellent, a king whose every indecision was final, vain and greedy. He wore, like the rest of the cast, grubby athleisure. He sported a crown (for a while) while everyone else had nifty gloves in various colours: there is even a "throwing down the gauntlet" party, like a food fight but with fingers."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"Simon Russell Beale was born to play Richard II. I wish he had done so in a less reductive version than this one by Joe Hill-Gibbins. It cuts the text to 100 minutes, deploys a cast of eight and is dominated by the idea that the contest between Richard's entitlement and Bolingbroke's pragmatism leads England to a state of playground anarchy."

"The play is not a one-man show but a study of the shifting dynamics of power and, although Leo Bill is a perfectly serviceable Bolingbroke, he never suggests either the crowd-pleasing populist or the ruthless schemer of Shakespeare's text: in the scene at Westminster where the nobles run amok he resembles a testy headmaster dealing with squabbling children."

Paul Taylor, The Independent


"The whole play becomes a kind of nightmarish flashback in which the Richard reviews the blunders that have led to his deposition. This makes dramatic sense of the casting. On one level, this great actor is now too old for the part (he reminds you more of Lear at moments) but the idea of the piece as anguished retrospect gives his seniority a haunting emotional resonance. His performance is wonderful."

"Skulking round the edges of the set or hammering against its walls in demented attempts to claim attention, the company vividly conjure up the moral confusions and divided loyalties in a period of political transition. There's a comic frenzy of gauntlet-throwing. Blood, dirt and water are chucked over people (Richard very much not excluded) from helpfully labelled buckets. Just occasionally, I was reminded of the kind of television game show where they tip horrible substances over the contestants. "