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Richard II

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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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. The lights dim and gradually the flatterers and the courtiers arrive and the play begins. For a brief few moments, we see the king alone.

What’s interesting is that it’s the only time Redmayne is stock-still; for much of the rest of the play he’s like a bundle of energy, emphasising his speech with furious hand movements. He’s a restless soul, with thought processes jumping from one topic to another, he seems to have the attention span of a coked-up banker. It’s seen to good effect in the coronation scene, pushing Bolingroke towards the throne, but at other times it seems an annoying distraction.

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”, a plain unadorned man stripped of his kingly trappings.

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, balancing family ties and national duty, and from Michael Hadley as a raging John of Gaunt. The actors are complemented by Richard Kent’s striking set design, a sumptuous vision of oak pillars and gothic decoration.

Grandage's ten-year reign as the Donmar artistic director has seen some fine productions. 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.

- Maxwell Cooter


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