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These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

David Tennant in Gregory Doran's Richard II from RSC Live

I went to see Richard II directed by Gregory Doran and starring David Tennant last night at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

It was a filmed version of the play, part of the RSC Live from Stratford-Upon-Avon production series. I wrote about them earlier here.
It was a fantastic production! 
If you can’t make it to Stratford, you should check the listings here to see if it is playing in your area:
I am not a professional theatre critic but I do want to share some of my thoughts with you.
David Tennant was excellent. I had read the reviews which were positive, but I didn’t really know what to expect from him. 
He was completely enthralling.

He is such a versatile actor. I have to admit that Richard II is not among my favorite Shakespeare plays, but he was brilliant at making the character and the play as a whole very entertaining.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I never knew what he was going to do next with the part, even though I know the play.
My favorite moments are when he slows the dialogue down to absolute silence, and then brings it back up again. I think most actors all too often rush the language and the action while performing Shakespeare. 
It was exciting to see such a great actor slow it down and invite you into the character.
The rest of the cast is superb, all experts in their craft.
I don’t like to single out any performances, but it would be unfair not to mention some of them.
Michael Pennington is as definitive a John of Gaunt as you can imagine. He was very moving in his final speech to King Richard before he dies.

Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt

Oliver Ford Davies as the Duke of York was very entertaining. He was great at bringing out the funnier moments of the play.

Oliver Ford Davies as Duke of York

Nigel Lindsay was great. He played Bolingbroke as a tough, proud and ambitious man. I especially liked the last shot of the film with him in the foreground. 

Nigel Lindsay as Bolingbroke

The play’s director, Gregory Doran, kept the play moving very well and it was a pleasure to watch.  He also seemed to emphasize the humor in the play, which was refreshing. Also, the staging of the murder of Richard in Pomfret Castle was fantastic.
And the camerawork was especially excellent. 
Mr. Doran just took over as the Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company late last year, and it is exciting to think of what he will do with the RSC in the coming years.
He also directed David Tennant in Hamlet, in 2009. It was a great production and they obviously work well together. I hope they find an opportunity to work again together in the near future.
Together they have created a King Richard II character here that I think is quite unique. He can be strong and arrogant at times, and at other times rather fragile and weak. He can show very masculine traits and then change, and show exhibit very feminine behaviour.
I thought about the wig that David Tennant wears. At first I thought it was distracting, but as the play went on, I think it helped to symbolize the two sides of the character.

It also reminded me that Shakespeare was thinking of Queen Elizabeth I when he was writing the play.
I will write more about the meaning of the play in the context of Shakespeare's life and times, and put it into the historical context of the Elizabethan period, but for now let me just say that Queen Elizabeth clearly understood that the depiction of King Richard II was meant to resemble her.
She even was quoted as saying "I am Richard II, know ye not that?"
So, while I was watching David Tennant perform Richard II in a wig and costume that were more feminine than masculine, I couldn't help but think that he was discovering something about the true character of Elizabeth I, who was very vain, and had very strong feminine and masculine qualities.
I hope you get a chance to see this great production. You shouldn’t miss it!

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