Bard on the Beach
Richard II
by William Shakespeare

Dates and Venue 8 July - 18 September 2009, (Tues - Sun) | Studio Stage, Vanier Park.

Director Christopher Weddell Costume Designer Mara Gottler Stage and Scenery Designer Mara Gottler Lighting Designer Alan Brodie Sound Designer Patrick Pennefather Fight Choreography Joshua Reynolds Stage Manager Joanne P.B. Smith

Reviewer Jane Penistan

Richard II is a prophetic play, foretelling future civil unrest and the prolonged and devastating Wars of the Roses. Richard II came to the throne as a young boy and the country was governed through regents until he came of age. Like many young men, once he acquired power he was unable to use it wisely, having had little experience of the consequences of unwise or hasty decisions, or of vacillation. Like a spoilt child, he was extravagant with the countries finances and chose flattering advisors. When his wise uncles, particularly John of Gaunt, endeavoured to give him advice, he ignored it or mocked their wisdom.

After his disastrous Irish defeat, Richard began to see his own incompetence and face the consequence of his inadequacy. Deposed by his forceful cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, rejected by his people, imprisoned and friendless, Richard was brutally murdered.

Christopher Weddell has set the play against a mediaeval royal court backdrop on a long apron stage. Here are the streets of London, castle forecourts, a garden, a jousting ground and interiors of courts, castles and a prison.

Mara Gottler has dressed the cast in costumes reminiscent of mediaeval illustrations of knights and ladies, with the knights in heavy dark clothes embellished with leather and steel. Richard himself wears a simple golden robe. Elder statesmen are attired in subdued colours, while commoners wear earthy toned brown and green woolen garments.

Haig Sutherland’s Richard II well portrays the adolescently behaved king, who matures to face his tragic defeat and downfall. This is a very well developed character by an actor who obviously appreciates the poetry of his soliloquies.

Henry Bolingbroke, (John Murphy) is a belligerent and ambitious young man, determined to get what he wants. This he achieves by his forceful behaviour. The text indicates that he charms the populace, but that personality does not come across here. He does show that he is developing wisdom in his late scene with the Duke of Aumerle and the Duke and Duchess of York, and perhaps a conscience in his intent to go on a pilgrimage.

The aging John of Gaunt is the most wise, prophetic and powerful of the roles in Richard II. Beautifully spoken and performed by Duncan Fraser, his scenes are highlights of this excellent production.

As the Duke of York, David Marr is, as always convincing and insightful. Celine Stubel as Richard’s queen, Isabel, lacked credibility and warmth, particularly when parting with Richard.

For Christopher Weddell, Richard II was a triumphant debut as a director for the Bard on the Beach. If there is adverse criticism it is that there is too much busy property changing between scenes. The hurrying actors carrying flowerbeds or floating covering sheets are distracting to the audience and break up the flow of the action. The text usually lets the audience know where it is. Otherwise, this was a stellar production.

© 2009 Jane Penistan