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Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse

Published December 7, 2011

Incense hangs in the air at the Donmar Warehouse, a constant reminder of religion in Michael Grandage’s farewell production Richard II.

Eddie Redmayne, as the eponymous monarch, sits as still as a statue, sceptre in hand while the audience enters, engulfed in a meditation that reveals his perception of his regal personality to be bordering on god-like. He is not a warrior king, not a fighter. Instead he is a king with complete belief in his divine right to sit on the throne, who worries not about human interference for his lot in life is beyond that.

That’s not entirely the best opinion for a monarch at the centre of a Shakespearean play to have. His banishment of Henry Bolingbroke (Andrew Buchan) is only ever going to lead to revenge, but revenge in the most gentlemanly of fashions.

This is not a tale of coups and battles, rather a more introspective piece in which Redmayne’s royal examines his raison d’être, travelling from all-powerful to mere mortal. The emerging star is electrifying as the threatened king, moving from a stillness verging on saintly to a visceral grasping as his power, in which he has total confidence, edges away.

Opposite Redmayne, Buchan bristles as a wronged Bolingbroke who, for all his raising of armies and garnering of support, appears to somewhat stumble his way to the crown.

Grandage, in his final production of a decade at the helm of the Donmar Warehouse, injects pace into the tale, rarely letting it dwell too long in one spot, while Richard Kent provides a striking palatial multi-tiered wooden set full of arches and columns, the perfect backdrop for such a stately show.

MA

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