Fringe Online 2020
Robert Myles Directs. It’s produced by Sarah Peachey, Casting Director Sydney Aldridge, Stage Manager and Master of Props, Emily Ingram, Fight Direction/Stunts: Yarit Dor & Enric Ortuno, Sound Design Adam Woodhams
After the director, guest speaker Hailey Bachrach introduces a brief discussion partly to let people fresh to Richard II to relax and take the play without too many dour lessons. ’s nearing completion of her PhD at King’s College London in collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe. Her thesis considers female roles in the history plays, and she worked as a research assistant for the Globe’s 2019 history play cycle.
Guest Speaker Curation’s via Ben Crystal, Associate Producers: Natalie Chan, Matthew Rhodes Infrastructure Support: Dr Ed Guccione, Dr Kay Guccione, PR: Kate Morley. Zoom’s Provided by Paraffin Ltd
The Show Must Go On gets to its tenth Shakespeare, Richard II live online and this time fund-raising for the Globe. It’s certainly the finest Shakespeare online during this lockdown, zooming in numerous actors around the world, with a full production team, props including swords, gauntlets, and remarkable lighting as well as scene announcements and music seamlessly delivered.
Vacillation and weak assertiveness hardly need underlying for ruinous topicality. Director Robert Myles marshals this acceleration over a compelling production – watched by not a few actors, scholars and Globe associates.
What we’re treated to is the absorbing dissection of a king entrapped in the web of inherited majesty, its unholiness washing the oil from an anointed king. Entitlement drips its unaccountability, its heedless cost in lives and the country’s fabric.
From the start Louise Lee allows a range not so often seen in the austere soaring perorations. There’s flinty fury, outrage and disbelief, but also a caprice that highlights some of the most arbitrary decisions. And a sotto voce whisper to dying Gaunt that’s quite chilling. We’re familiar with the quicksilver way in Richard havers over that duel between Bolingbroke (here a commanding Danann McAleer) and Neelaksh Sadhoo’s one role of Mowbray (pained and downright) explodes in remarkable effects – awash with blurs and pounding hooves as battle by joust is joined. It’s thrilling. Then shifts to banishment – perpetual in Mowbray then reduced banishment in Bolingbroke and you can see Lee’s hardening begins to splinter Richard’s foundations.
But Lee uniquely sets up Richard’s spoilt, abrupt dealings with an almost whimsical top-spin, for instance she and Michael Skellern’s unpleasantly fawning Aumerle (York’s son who’ll prove loyal to Richard, treacherous elsewhere) cackling over Bullingbrook’s fall together; then visited when Richard commandeers first taxes, then John of Gaunt’s goods.
What this production emphasizes is the arbitrariness of Richard’s whims, the cold dark avarice over Gaunt’s property to fund the Ireland expedition. It marks a fall with great clarity. Lee sets the arrogance as well as charm before a fall with an exquisite sense of Richard’s obliviousness.
Yvonne Riley’s Gaunt too is singularly etched, giving one of the finest performances vocally, etching a tremulous dying prince’s prophesy; Her ‘How art thou a king but by fair sequence and succession?’ precedes a powerful valediction. As does Meredith DiPaolo Stephens explosive with grief as Duchess of Gloucester (we still never discover who murdered Gloucester, Richard’s other uncle).
Jamie Richard-Stewart’s fine ill-fated Bushy and even more as ill-prophesying truculent Gardener with pots of basil and others from the roof making a fetching scene. Again Lee’s indifference to elder counsel is brought out with a kind of callousness and dispatch for Gaunt’s goods that ensure it’s when not if Richard falls.
Lee’s other great opportunity for slippery alienation is naturally the deposition scene, where the very language of abdication is being forged and broken by the way the crown’s hesitated, toyed with, surrendered and snatched. Lee’s switchbacks and quicksilver sense of the verse compels us to this version of Richard, a bizarre mix of rigidity and indecisiveness. Lee also gets the caprice and pettiness of Richard, the tricksiness and touch of vicious spoilt narcissist.
But Lee makes the crumbling of of Richard tremulous and human, she puts on the more that’s sheered off her majesty and shows as a human more majesty than when on the throne. Lee manages to put back the tragedy in a tear-streaked valediction. And when Lee’s Richard now counts a king among flatterers, it’s as if in a sense you feel a courtier’s role might have proved more fortunate.
There’s one extraordinary moment with the mirror that’ll both thrill and shock. The use of props throughout has been almost miraculous. Richard’s ‘was this the face’ seems to suggest Marlowe’s Helen, but what Le does is almost worth the whole show.
McAleer’s Bullingbrook naturally has to reflect back something other: an initially reluctant, then resolute bruiser, who sees the limits of niceties. His lucid, emotionally centred performance is a delight. Only three years after the close of this play and in real time Shakespeare has him prematurely oak-aged and ill, in 1403 at the Battle of Shrewsbury.
Elsewhere the text’s given far more fully when Lane Graciano’s Queen is given more agency than in any other production. Graciano possesses clarity of diction and rationale, and does wrenching grief, well too, bringing fierce loyalty almost intimacy in the one private scene to a nameless, thankless cipher role.
Emily Gilson’s Northumberland is a skirling joy as she slices through the pretensions surrounding Richard’s claims. She continually steels towards deposition and outraged pique at Richard’s wrong-doing.
Robert Cohen oozes the politic Machiavel and sharpens the dull agonized York so his irascibility condemning his own son (who cleaved to Richard when he finally forsook him) seems believable – you wonder what’s left of the marriage to his Duchess afterwards. Lisa Hill-Corley’s a firecracker protecting her cub here. The black comedy of her son’s defection and wife’s taking the son’s side, as York proceeds to denounce an only son as traitor to the new king. How they all fetch up at court is one of the richest black farces in Shakespeare.
Skellern’s Aumerle is given those reflective parts hedging about monarchs so we’re treated to a fine register of reflection. Pedro Santos (who also wreaks the shadows bars on Richard) as the foreboding loyalist Bagot wins more bloody ends as the Groom who Richard kills in extremis.
Miriam Kerzner brings a defiant dignity as the loyal Bishop of Carlisle who refuses to back down, though powerless. Kerzner adds a natty hat to rival Richard’s crown and her speech is magnificent, balancing Gaunt’s earlier.
Alec Bennie shows strongly as Bullingbrook’s henchman Lord Willoughby as well as Exton. Brandon Dodsworth’s dashing tousled Harry Percy, so crucial to Henry IV/I is here ironically a loyal follower of Bullingbrook. It was at this point chat columns suggest the tuft of trees disgorges a boy band of young actors. Jack Lancaster’s anxious Ross – later the Aumerle-and-Surrey-accused Fitzwater, vehement in defence – adds another dash to the mix.
As Sir Stephen Scroop Georgia Andrews terrific here managing to pitch just right; Andrews and Lee are tremendous in the lead-up to the great deposition speech. She manages Berkeley and York’s Servant with real dignity.
Liza Graham enjoys flurry of different voicings, the frighted Green who shares Bushy’s fate, with a final vehemence against Bullingbrook as she’s led off; and Gardener’s rustic help. Lauren Ash-Morgan takes the conscience-riven Lord Marshal, Guard, an agonized Welsh Captain counselling flight to Salisbury, Exton’s Servant and Queen’s attendant in a touching scene with the queen and attendant Ash-Morgan. Ezra Jackson-Smith is clear-voiced as Salisbury and Abbott. Eleanor Neylon and particularly Luke Barton take their chance as Swings.
Special mention should be made Stage Manager and Master of Props, Emily Ingram, which are outstanding in this climate. Yarit Dor’s fight scenes – as in the Richard II at the Wanamaker production a year ago – are never so potent as at the very end, with more than one body lying strewn (as far as we know, Richard slew one of his assailants) and Richard, spewing stage blood. Production’s by Sarah Peachey, casting director Sydney Aldridge.
Of major roles, McAleer’s Bullingbrook to is youthfully alert, proper for the role and matches her in the narrower scope of his character, Cohen gives a different darker York; Riley’s portraying Gaunt’s decline is as sharp as a pin, Gilson’s Northumberland hinting the curmudgeon to come. Sadhoo’s wounded Mowbray is all too brief. Kerzner’s Carslisle is another highlight. The other parts as we’ve seen are well-taken, cope with the language and don’t explode it across our screens, but speak its truth.
This is a remarkable production, as full and nuanced as you could hope to see even beyond its circumstances. There’s some outstanding work – Lee as Richard is memorable, quicksilver, plangent and inhabits the poetry and pity of her role. Do see this.