Richard II at The Barbican Center.

david tennant richard II

The first thing that hits you when you arrive at the Barbican Center is : it’s huge! And when I say “huge”, I mean that you literally have to follow a yellow line in order to find your way into the building.

There are people everywhere, having a drink, chatting, and even though you haven’t even bought your program yet, you can feel the excitement rising from the crowd.

The gigantic posters of the play are everywhere. David Tennant and Richard II are staring at you, no matter where you look.

And then, finally, you find your seat. The first thing you notice is the coffin on stage. Dark and alone. And then, it begins. Jane Lapotaire’s Duchess of Gloucester is suddenly here, mourning, and is soon joined by the Court and its androgynous King.
This Richard II looks like a twisted echo of the Christ, with his long hair, his white robes and the cross resting on his chest. But for now, the comparison stops here. He is careless, capriciously tyrannical, disdainful, and so narcissistic that it’s rather obvious he has no idea what’s coming. Needless to say that the usually cheerful and agreeable Mr Tennant is long forgotten, lost in this VERY good performance.

His opponent, Henry Bolingbroke, interpreted by the great Nigel Lindsay, is his exact opposite. There is nothing delicate about him. He is rough, and fierce. A warrior, loved by his people. The King may be his cousin but blood is the only thing they have in common.

However, despite the undeniable talent of D. Tennant, N. Lindsay, J. Lapotaire, O.F. Davies and M. Pennington, who are without a doubt at their best, the first hour of the play sometimes feels a bit still, empty. As if the Barbican’s immensity was weighing heavily on it. The stage seems too big, and, to me, the Court seemed frozen in some kind of invisible fog, not even moving a hair whenever someone was talking.

Thankfully, after these few minutes, the play finally explodes in all it’s magnificence. Tragic for a second, and the next, hilarious. No matter how well you know the play, the cast and all the team manage to surprise you. In all his apparent frailty, Tennant’s Richard II remains deliciously sarcastic with his half-tragic, half-contemptuous “Here cousin!”. The liberties taken by the creative team fit perfectly with their interpretation of the play (and will remain unspoken to preserve the surprise for those of you who will have the privilege to see it soon by themselves).

The deposition scene is simply a masterpiece. Two kings. Yes, two kings. One, waiting for the last missing piece of his coronation, supported by the people, the other appearing truly dignified for the first time, standing straight, with bare feet, but grand, his last spark of nobility shining brighter than ever. Two kings reunited by the unique and simple golden crown that will be the beginning of one and the end of the other.

All in all, this play is a “must see” and a delight for the mind that will brighten your day like a raising sun. Bravo!

Alixia Buffière.


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