Richard II

KIERAN CORCORAN: Richard II talks the talk, but can it walk the walk?

ADC Theatre, 1st-5th May, 7.45pm, £6-10

Directed by George Johnston

[rating: 3/5]

Shakespeare and the ADC never seem to rub along particularly well. Despite obvious talent, some good directorial calls and a solid aesthetic, Richard II doesn’t break the three-star trend.

The main problem was one of tone. Shakespeare’s pinwheel play dips into low humour for moments only to spring back to the tragic, but this production’s transitions weren’t nimble enough to keep up. A rush to turn even serious scenes into Carry On Courtier is pervasive as brief flashes of humour inflate beyond all proportion, and any sense of the play’s insistent gravitas is jettisoned.

Funny Shakespeare is a much lower hanging fruit than serious and affecting Shakespeare, and let’s just say that George Johnston’s approach to Richard II didn’t exactly require a cherry picker. The subtly-nuanced rhetoric of Richard and his court was too often played as coarse banter, depriving the audience of its native richness. Like Hamlet, Richard is a protagonist with the rare ability to be funny and sad at the same time. It takes rare talent in an actor to bring this to the stage, and while Alex Gomar managed it at times (the abdication scene in particular was excellent), much was lost.

In keeping with this comic interpretation came an almost patronisingly emphatic style. The underlying assumption, seemingly, was that we need slow and loud delivery, and lots of big hand gestures, to follow properly. It was a little overbearing.

The happy upshot of this singular focus was the impression that every character really knew their way around the lines they were speaking. Shakespeare’s poetry is seldom well-served by amateurs, but this cast had taken the time to weigh up every stop and pause, with a pleasingly lyrical result.

Mowbray’s brief turn on stage (courtesy of the prolific Joey Akubeze) was particularly good for this, handling his lines with fitting fluency and bile. Quentin Beroud as his opposite, Bolingbroke, started well but often let an overly macho characterisation flatten out the play’s most intriguing character. Charlie Merriman’s obsequious Northumberland was slick and entertaining, and Aumerle, played by Sam Sloman, smacks excellently of early Jude Law.

Undoubtedly the worst contributions to the performance came from the audience, whom I’m not reviewing but would definitely get one star if I were. Presumably friends of the cast, they laughed loudly and often at nothing in particular. Disruptive as fuck, even if seeing your mate wear tights on-stage probably is the most authentically hilarious experience of your life.

Regardless of the needless titters they summoned from the audience (endured admirably the the cast), the sumptuous period dress did an excellent job anchoring the production in its courtly world, as well as giving easy indication of ranks and identity. It combined with an aptly spare set, only let down by a truly bizarre Scooby Doo trapdoor throne, to form an appropriately Shakespearean mixture of definition and flexibility.

Richard II looks the part, but doesn’t have the kind of regal bearing necessary to fill out its regalia, or the strength to support its crown. The Shakespeare with the most self-evident sense of its own grandeur needs to be taken more seriously.

  • dear kieran

    I give YOU three stars

  • 1stNightAudienceAlso

    This should be the real review… it's absolutely spot on – what a truly awful interpretation of one of Shakespeare's finest plays.

    • ditto

      Agreed – the design was nowhere near the quality I'd expect from an ADC mainshow (aside from the live band which was nice, but vastly underused); there were a few good performances amidst the awkward verse delivery, but they weren't enough to prop up an unimaginative, confused and hugely disappointing production.

  • Music

    …and the music?

    • what about it?

  • your conscience

    and whoever wrote this comes off in such a good light…


  • what?

    Why has this been written? Also, why does tab allow anonymous hate comments? Surely this should be removed?

    • oh!

      fair enough.

  • Undermined…

    Ed Rowett is English, you idiot, so I don't see what accent he was trying to disguise…

  • 2ndnightviewer

    Really enjoyed it. Not an easy play to stage but well done given the student budget they must have had

  • Ohthehumanity

    OH NO A STUDENT SHOW COULDN'T GET COMPLETELY ACCURATE PERIOD COSTUMES. What a crime against Shakespeare. Jog on you mug.

  • Susan Pevensie

    The audience certainly didn't behave asdescribed the night I was in. Not being a relative of cast or crew – I still manage find this review ludicrous. IMight I suggest someone look up the word critique? It doesn't mean being pointlessly rude

  • Thursday audience

    I am shocked to find myself entirely agreeing with the review – I thought that there were some strong performances throughout in particular from Gomar and Merriman, but it seemed to me that some of the comedy was being played up not necessarily because it was funny, but because it was an easy laugh. How much of this is the direction, and how much is the cast playing fast and loose with said direction we'll never know.

    To my mind, Richard's death scene was horribly executed (no pun intended) – especially considering that the show hired a professional fight choreo. Say what you will about R+J this time last year, the fighting was tight (if embellished with overly-indulgent visual styles)

    As to comments from "Audience" about the period appropriateness or otherwise of the costumes? I didn't notice, nor did most people in the audience I suspect. Not too offensive a failing. The lighting was jacked up in places though – from the designer who brought you Mother Courage And Her Children…

    • Its bizarre

      that you critique the playing up of the comedy whilst praising the two actors playing the two parts most susceptible to comic playing up… cake… eat it…

      I agree the lighting was shit though

Get the best of The Tab on our app.

So long as anti-Semitism is dismissed, Cambridge cannot endorse the NUS

It’s not right that the voices of thousands of Jewish students across the country are playing second fiddle.

Do we really hate each other?

Are the haters really gonna hate hate hate?

The Cambridge Easter Term Bucket List

Finding the fun in the joyless.

The Tab tries: Outdoor gyms

You haven’t felt manly till you’ve flipped a truck tyre in Shoreditch

Justin Timberlake has just released the obligatory ‘song of the summer’

You’re going to really hate this in a few months

Oxford University will not expel Rhodes Must Fall founder

42,000 people called for his bursary to be revoked

, Assistant Editor

All the things you learn about life from your bang average comprehensive

Lunchtime detentions were a rite of passage

, Assistant Editor

Snapchatting your trip to the polling station is silly, self-absorbed and insignificant

It’s a day about something bigger, and you somehow managed to make it about yourself

, Argument Editor

‘What’s the weather like up there?’ and other things tall people are fed up of hearing

You’re right actually, it is starting to rain