THE TRAGEDY OF KING RICHARD II, National Theatre Live, UK, 2019. Starring Simon Russell Beale, Leo Bill, Saskia Reeves, Directed by
This is the filmed version of a performance at the Alameida Theatre in London, under the sponsorship and distribution of National Theatre Live.
Shakespeare’s text has been bridged and Richard the second is final speech transferred to the opening of the performance forming a framework about Richard and his reflections on his fate.
There is a single set, a sealed room, no windows or doors. There is no real costuming, the performers wearing their rehearsal clothes. There are some buckets which are used – with water, blood, soil. And there is a gold paper crown.
Audiences not familiar with the play may find it difficult to deal with the range of characters since there are only eight in the cast, seven of them taking multiple roles. It is also difficult to gauge the time sequences, whether a long time for short periods.
Simon Russell Beale is Richard the second, the seeming failure in his rule of England, challenged by Henry, the son of John Gaunt, Bolingbroke, who plots against Richard and is exiled but returns, getting support from many nobles, eventually accepting the Crown before Richard dies. He is played by Leo Bill, rather younger and more Gaunt than might be expected, especially in comparison with Simon Russell Beale and his age and build.
The production notes for this performance have reference to bricks it, particular personalities involved in the bricks of debates, reflections of the mayhem in the British Parliament in the 21st-century – anticipated by factions, betrayals, accusations of treason, and literal executions rather than verbal condemnations and back-stabbing.
There are some famous passages, the praise of England, the sceptre do I’ll and other attributes, sitting on the ground speaking of Kings, and uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
It is not the most exciting of Shakespeare’s plays, taking its place in his historical overview, something of a preview to the two parts of Henry IV, leading to Henry V and the three parts of Henry VI, the background to the War of the Roses in the series leading to the ascension of Henry VII and the Tudor dynasty.
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Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.