The first facet to applaud is the riveting performances by the entire cast. King Richard (Hayden Frost) played his part with a commitment and fortitude much worthy of praise. His character is not a likeable one, but Frost’s performance stayed true and did not sway into the realm of ridiculousness or outright villainy, a feat I enjoyed immensely. Maggie White’s Bolingbroke was, again, an exceptionally piece of acting. Her movements made the Duke an assured and capable figure deserving of his triumphs and Brianne Kerr’s Duke of York was impressive in her capability of projecting wisdom as well as her dedication to the character’s physicality. The articulation of the performers was clear and precise and the Shakespearean language easily understandable. Oftentimes Shakespeare tends to get bogged down in correct pronunciation relieving itself of emotional force, this was not the case here. It was clear the actors were highly educated in what feeling to give their lines, which made the play alive and engaging.
The lighting design by Tony Black was one of my favourite aspects of the show. It was minimalist and yet showed itself to be incredibly thematic, working brilliantly with the characters and the movement of the plot. The first act of the play shows King Richard bathed in a constant golden light as if from a divine presence, though this changes as the play progresses and the audience realises that the light upon the king was one he thought was blessing his designation in life as ruler of England. As the usurpation beings, Bolingbroke’s supporters carry their own lights as an indication that they wish to shine them upon who they choose to be king. However, once Richard is deposed, Bolingbroke is lit from the back, a silhouette shining in the light of those who see him, and stands strong in the glow. Such imagery was subtle, not overt, but the interpretations were plain to fathom.
Cain and his team delivered many a time with this type of subtlety, such as the incorporation of rice as a prop. It is used many times and the recurring nature of it helped tie the story together very nicely and looked fantastic on the black floor of the stage. There was one particular moment where the cast manipulated the rice in a split second from a half-circle to a crown that I felt was an inspired choice. Another example was Lisa Kiyomoto-Fink’s costume design, cleverly giving the characters easy colour motifs so the audience could keep track of who belonged to which family as is significant in historical plays.
The play has no intermission and does last for a long time, over two hours at least, and this was felt. There did not seem to be a definitive midway point and there were times I was left wondering how long it had to go. This is more to do with the original play, not the performance, but I did miss that break where I could stand up, get a drink, discuss what we thought so far and then be ready to delve into it again newly energised.
In summation, Richard II was well executed and thoroughly entertaining. I would be more inclined to go see other Shakespeare historical plays after seeing the excellence of this one and would highly recommend it to not only history and theatre buffs, but novices as well.
Richard II is playing at BATS theatre from the 18th – 27th August at 6.30pm. Tickets can be found at https://bats.co.nz/whats-on/richard-ii/