Theatre Review: Richard The 2nd at The Barbican

David Tennant as Richard II

David Tennant as Richard II

Much attention has been given to David Tennant’s 80s glam rock locks but it is his playful, enjoyably spontaneous and glorious portrayal of a King in demise we should all be focused on. Tennant gives an exhilarating performance as King Richard the II in the RSC’s latest offering at the Barbican.

The Barbican’s grand theatre is kept dark with transparent curtains made from a clever use of light giving the illusion of tall pillars and ancient arches.  This will be one of the main backdrops of 14th century England where the play takes place. Richard II is primarily about a King’s fall from power and the transfer of his crown to his cousin or the first Lancaster King Henry Bolingbroke played with great intensity by Nigel Lindsay. Richard was thrust into his position as a regal figure at the young age of ten.  Having this much power from such a young age turned him into a philandering & unruly king spending more time & money on Italian fashions and his friends than taking care of his people.  It was precisely when he started to rent off pieces of England’s territory in order to fund his wars along with taking the lands and money of his highly respected Uncle, John of Gaunt ,played by Michael Pennington, to help maintain his treasure chests that the noblemen around him felt it was time for him to go.

However, it is not just Bolingbroke who has turned against him , the entire country has too along with his Uncle , the Duke of York played by Oliver Ford Davies who next to Tennant gives much of the comedic relief of the play, and his loyal welsh soldiers. Richard now faces losing his crown and imprisonment.

Tennant’s characterization of a childish king is spot on .  He gives his Richard II homosexual overtones which he does not shy away from . It is a performance that is exuberant , spontaneous and fun to watch. His voice reaches some high decibels and his body moves flamboyantly around the stage.  The scene before he discovers that practically  his entire land has turned against him we watch him flail around a beach on the coast of Wales like a little boy but then see his transformation into a delirious and heartbroken ruler.

However,  Tennant is not the only show stopper and is surrounded by a strong cast of characters. Oliver Ford Davies is brilliant as the bumbling Duke of York his comic timing is a welcome relief and nice break for a drama so steeped in despair and misery.  He also provided a lot of the lighter moments whereas the stronger dramatic moments were held up by Lindsay’s Bolingbroke, Marty Cruickshank as the Duchess of York and Oliver Rix who plays Duke of Aumerle. Rix has to play one of the toughest parts in the cast as he is both one of Richard’s most loyal subjects and then has to contradict this loyalty to regain the confidence of the newly crowned King. He plays it with great conviction and desperation.

This is a hot ticket.  I read that there are Americans flying across the pond to see it so get your tickets quick! Richard the II is on till the 25th of January.

For tickets please visit – The Barbican Site

About Melissa Palleschi

Melissa Palleschi New York actress living in London and trained in Italy, New York and here in London at the Actors Studio. She is also a founding member of the Planktonic Players, who made their London debut at Camden Fringe Festival in 2012.


View all Posts

You must be logged in to post a comment Login