facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11

Richard II

First Published 17 April 2008, Last Updated 17 April 2008

New ground was broken at the Old Vic last night, when Kevin Spacey took his first major Shakespearean role on British soil, playing usurped king, Richard II, in Trevor Nunn’s production. In doing so, the current Artistic Director of the Waterloo venue becomes the twelfth name in an impressive list of actors, including John Gielgud, Alec Guinness and Ronald Pickup, to play Richard at the Old Vic. Matthew Amer attended the first night…

It is clear from the start that Kevin Spacey’s Richard is a king who believes in himself, his right to govern and that he has been chosen by God to take this position of responsibility. The production opens with Richard’s regal robes of office stood, starkly and clinically, centre stage in a glass wardrobe, the crown’s jewels glittering as stars in the stage lights. As Spacey’s Richard strides ritualistically to the front of the stage before being adorned with his opulent apparel, there is not a shadow of a doubt in his mind that he can only ever be right. This self-belief will not last long.

A disagreement amongst his lords leads Richard to banish his cousin Bolingbroke (played by Ben Miles). This decision, when Richard then takes Bolingbroke’s inheritance on the death of his father, leads to an invading army, a lack of support for the king and the realisation that Richard is himself, only human. When Richard, following his surrender of the throne to Bolingbroke, desperately speaks the words “I have no name”, it is plain that he has no idea of who he is without his God-given position as ruler.

Though Trevor Nunn has previously directed 30 of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, this is the director’s first stab at Richard II. In his programme notes, Nunn says of the Bard “We know that he packed his work with ‘contemporary references’”; Nunn does the same. Sharp business suits are the dress code for members of court until they hit the battlefields, when flack jackets and balaclavas prove much more appropriate for this season’s discerning warrior.

 

No mistake can be made that the difference between public and private expression is key to this production, as the media are ever present, filming coronations and speeches before screening them on two large screens at either side of the stage. Julian Glover’s angered John of Gaunt give his dying ‘This England’ speech only after receiving the pre-filming make-up treatment.

One particular screening – that of Bolingbroke decreeing the execution of captured enemy lords, which is set against a plain khaki backdrop, flanked by balaclava wearing henchmen and with the captured lords blindfolded – was a stark reminder of more recent conflicts.

KBen Miles’ Bolingbroke is a smooth-talking politician of a usurper, quick to gain allies as fast as the king loses them and eager to portray the correct impression in front of the press. Though he grows in confidence, his character does not change as much as that of the destroyed king. Amongst all the soul searching, Spacey’s Richard continues to shows glimpses of a very dry, and often inappropriate, sense of humour; a murmur here, a quick change of pace there, and a not un-Victoria like “We are amazed” when faced with adversity. The comic pinnacle comes from Susan Tracy’s Duchess of York who arrives to plead for the life of her treacherous son, dressed in the same son’s leather jacket and motorbike helmet, and carrying her husband’s shoe.

As the show draws to a close, with Spacey’s Richard finally able to find a little peace and contentment while imprisoned, the king doubles his evening’s tally for being stabbed in the back. The first comes from being deposed by his very kin, the second is much more physical and blood stained.

Richard II will run at the Old Vic until 26 November.

MA

Share

Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.

While theatres are currently closed, various venues and productions are making announcements for their individual shows, including cancellations and rescheduled performances. Please check with the individual shows for details.