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Review Round-up: Grandage Ends Reign With Richard II

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Repeating the multi award-winning combination of Red, Michael Grandage and Eddie Redmayne are reunited for Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse - Grandage's final production at the helm of the Covent Garden venue.

The production, lavishly staged by Richard Kent, opened last night (6 December, previews from 1 December 2011) and continues until 4 February 2012. It sees Redmayne joined in the cast by Andrew Buchan, Ron Cook and Sian Thomas.

Redmayne won a Tony Award for his last outing with Grandage after Red transferred from the Donmar to Broadway. Recently seen on the big screen in My Week with Marilyn, as well as films such as Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Good Shepherd , Redmayne's stage credits include Hecuba, Now or Later and The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?.

Maxwell Cooter

"Theatregoers arriving at Michael Grandage's farewell production are met by an arresting image: Eddie Redmayne’s Richard seated on the throne, deep in meditation … What’s interesting is that it’s the only time Redmayne is stock-still … Redmayne captures the spoiled impetuousness and the petulance of a ruler who believes himself protected by reason of his anointed status. What he doesn't capture is the poetry – there's more verse in Richard II than any of Shakespeare's plays – and the contrasts between Richard the king and Richard the man. He doesn’t really find voice until his final scene, singing along to the 'sweet sour music' … Andrew Buchan's plain-speaking Bolingbroke displays more kingly qualities but there’s little of the political intrigue here. There's some good support from Ron Cook as a morally upright York… and from Michael Hadley as a raging John of Gaunt. The actors are complemented by Richard Kent’s striking set design … This Richard II contains some good performances and has excellent moments but fails to capture all the rich complexity of the play. It's a shame that he's not going out in a blaze of glory but he’s given plenty to savour over the last decade."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"Michael Grandage ends his reign as artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse with a beautiful and moving production of a play about a king giving up his crown … There have been many great evenings under his watch that still glow in the memory … Richard II finds him at his lucid, atmospheric best … The play’s debate about the divine right of kings seems archaic and irrelevant to today’s politics. Yet, as so often, Grandage brings the piece to life. Richard Kent’s opulent, split-level design, all golden gothic arches and wafts of incense, brilliantly captures the medieval age … Eddie Redmayne confirms his status as one of the most exciting young actors in Britain today with his often mesmerising performance as Richard II. He is by turn grandiose, camp, maudlin and self-dramatising, and sometimes all of these things at once … My only quibble is that the actor overdoes the gaping mouth of a king who can’t quite believe the insolence of his subjects … There are no weak links in the supporting cast, with Andrew Buchan even managing to make the boring Bolingbroke intermittently interesting. One is impatient to see what Grandage does next in his new life beyond the Donmar."

Michael Billington

"Michael Grandage ends his dazzling tenure at the Donmar with a Richard II that has many virtues: clarity, speed, superb set and sound design. But the big question is whether Eddie Redmayne, currently hot in movies but inexperienced in Shakespeare, is ready for the title role. My feeling is that he has the temperament but not yet the technique to play the king … I was reminded of Ian McKellen who showed us a Richard so cocooned in ceremony he seemed to be gliding on castors … Like many Shakespearean tyros, he also falls into the trap of seeking to illustrate virtually every line with an appropriate hand gesture … Redmayne is at his best in the abdication scene … What he needs to acquire is the technique that comes with Shakespearean practice. Fortunately, there is plenty of evidence of that from the senior members of the cast. Even if Andrew Buchan's Bolingbroke misses something of the character's political craftiness, there is much first-rate support. Ron Cook is a brilliantly dithering Duke of York… Michael Hadley gives full weight to John of Gaunt's angry attack on Richard's irresponsibility, and Sian Thomas as the dying Duchess of Gloucester memorably shows how a word like 'despair' can be imbued with intensity of feeling. As always with Grandage, the production looks and sounds marvellous … But, much as I admire Grandage's achievement at the Donmar, I suspect he has for once asked too much of a rising star."

Libby Purves
The Times

"King Richard, the last Plantagenet, is enthroned like a royal effigy in white and gold: his onstage immobility, through 15 minutes of slowly dimming house lights, is the first demanding task enjoined on Eddie Redmayne by his director, Michael Grandage, who bids farewell to the Donmar with this show … Much is written about Shakespeare’s bolstering of royal divinity: in this play it is subtly subverted … In an early, famously explosive climax the dying John of Gaunt delivers his paean to 'This earth, this realm, this England': Michael Hadley finding an intense, despairing fire. But the two cousins are the core of the play: Redmayne’s Richard is all eloquent, self-dramatising kingliness, yet beneath it lies the trapped, vacillating self-doubt … Andrew Buchan as Bolingbroke is macho in warlike leather, his watchful stillness a tough secular contrast to Richard’s theatrical posing … Every gesture and word from the whole ensemble counts: Ron Cook is particularly fine as the conflicted regent, York. It is a fitting final flourish to Grandage’s Donmar years."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"Eddie Redmayne is one of our prettiest male actors. I daresay he attracts wolf whistles from building sites. In some ways this makes him a natural to play Richard II, who is often portrayed as a fey violet. Mr Redmayne certainly brings detailed fragility to the flawed, soon-to-be-toppled king … What we lack, however, is a sense of Richard ever having been remotely impressive as monarch … Redmayne certainly delivers an interesting performance. This Richard is not as tyrannical as some … With a really top-notch Richard we surely pity him a little by the end. That didn’t happen for me in this production. Maybe Mr Redmayne is simply too good-looking to play a character this problematic … Grandage gives us his trademark elegance: tolling bells, a classical set which incorporates a gilted wooden gallery … Some of the support acting is workmanlike rather than brilliant. Michael Hadley’s John of Gaunt hops around like a sandpiper during his supposed deathbed speech about ‘this sceptered isle’. Daniel Flynn’s Northumberland, far from being a silken schemer, is more of a nightclub bouncer."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

"Michael Grandage's glittering tenure at the Donmar Warehouse closes with this elegant production of a Shakespeare play which, fittingly, is about a king who gives up his crown ... Redmayne's Richard is a deeply theatrical ruler, whose display of authority is steeped in rhetoric and a studied manliness that can't obscure his childlike tendencies - or indeed the essential fragility of his sovereignty ... Andrew Buchan's brooding, rugged, manly Bolingbroke threatens to usurp Richard. He courts popular approval, 'diving' into the hearts of ordinary citizens. Yet though he's strikingly different from the king, their experiences run in parallel, and Bolingbroke discovers that with mastery comes solitude ... Cogent performances cluster around the two leads. Michael Hadley's John of Gaunt, who gets the play's most famous speech, is suitably intense ... While not the Donmar at its transcendent best, this fluent and polished Richard II is an appropriate way to mark Grandage's departure."


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