Omnibus Theatre, London – until 27 November 2022
Anna Coombs’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard II sees the story slimmed down for five actors, with three of the cast playing more than one character. It focuses the attention on King Richard (Daniel Rock) and his cousins, the loyal Aumerle (Lebogang Fisher) and Henry Bollingbroke (Raheim Menzies), and the power tussle between them for the crown. The production sets out its stall dressing the stage with step ladders of various heights. Who will climb, and how high will they go?
From the opening scene, where Henry accuses Mowbray (Sibusiso Mamba) of lying and murder, and Richard flip-flops over his decisions, it’s a one-sided fight in terms of who is most suited to lead, but with this position of power, it’s more complex than suitability. It is the first incident that chimes with contemporary British politics of the last few years.
Menzies’ Henry is a born leader, he is level-headed compared to Richard, and his campaign for what he is entitled to feels just next to the King’s abuse of power. He seems thoughtful and considered, while Richard makes decisions on a whim and falls into poetic whimsy. His justification for what he does is a divine right; he is anointed in holy oil at his coronation, after all.
And here is another contemporary parallel, Richard has God’s mandate, and our politicians have a mandate through election. Under what circumstances and for what level of behaviour does that mandate end?
There are original musical compositions in a traditional Zimbabwean style performed between acts; these grow more haunting as the play progresses. When the final blow is struck, a vocal backdrop creates a sad atmosphere for Richard’s demise at the hand of a so-called friend.
In other productions I’ve seen, the King’s poetry and melancholy at his predicament have drawn more sympathy to the central character. Here the power of the production is in the modern parallels and the debate around when is it right to remove a leader. It is a timely revival of Shakespeare’s play.
Tangle Theatre’s Richard The Second is an accomplished and solid production, Shakespeare’s words are spoken with a freshness and clarity by an all-around excellent cast.
I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Richard The Second, Omnibus Theatre
Written by William Shakespeare, adapted by Anna Coombs
Directed by Anna Coombs
Running time 2 and a half hours, including an interval
Booking until 27 November. For more details and tickets, head to Omnibus Theatre’s website.
Mary, Hampstead Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 26 November
Good, Harold Pinter Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ booking until 24 December
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