15 Jul Richard II
Directed by Andrew Hilton
10 February – 19 March 2011
Production Photos © Graham Burke 2011
Richard II John Heffernan
Gaunt & 1st Gardener Benjamin Whitrow
York Roland Oliver
Aumerle Oliver Millingham
Northumberland John Cording
Scroope Doron Davidson
Mowbray & Carlisle Paul Currier
Bullingbrook Matthew Thomas
Green Gareth Kennerley
Bushy & Abbott David Collins
York’s Servant & Soldier Craig Fuller
Bagot Richard Neale
Glendower & Exton Paul Brendan
Ross & Fitzwater Dan Winter
Willoughby & Surrey Alan Coveney
Harry Percy Jack Bannell
Duchesses of Gloucester & York Julia Hills
Queen Isabel Ffion Jolly
Lady Kate Kordel
Herald & The Groom Roddy Peters
Director Andrew Hilton
Assistant Director Edward Stambollouian (BOVTS attachment)
Set & Costume Designer Harriet de Winton
Costume Supervisor Rosalind Marshall
Composer & Sound Designer Elizabeth Purnell
Edition & Associate Director Dominic Power
Lighting Designer Matthew Graham
Fight Director Peter Clifford
Production Manager Chris Bagust
Company & Stage Manager Polly Meech
Stage Managers Eleanor Dixon & Andy Guard
Costume Maker & Maintenance Lauren Macaulay
Costume Assistant Bianca Ward
Costume Laundry Kim Winter
Scenic Construction Andrew Powell
Scenic Art Simon Farrell
The Sunday Times Enter the king: young and nervy, arrogant but insecure. Power is exciting but slippery, so you must watch yourself – it’s like a game, but you haven’t quite grasped the rules. John Heffernan plays Richard with sparkling intelligence and delicate feeling. This is a political tragedy of misused power and wasted ambition, of a ruler who is most obsessed by his own feelings and watches himself playing his roles like a fretful actor. This is Shakespeare at his most subtle and most ruthless, dissecting the price of power, of honesty and dishonesty. Matthew Thomas is a powerful Bullingbrooke, cool and shrewd, destroying his cousin Richard with a blend of sadness and impatience, and Roland Oliver’s Duke of York is a masterclass in how to combine shrewd diplomacy, rueful compromise, anger and avuncular humour. Andrew Hilton’s production is lucid and gripping, and the company acting could show a thing or two to some of our distinguished directors. John Peter
The Observer It rings out clearly as an early stab at Hamlet. It also declares war on a rotten England, a land nibbled away by – it’s an ever useful description – the “caterpillars of the commonwealth”. Andrew Hilton’s finely tuned production of Richard II goes to the heart of Shakespeare’s play, and proves yet again how hard it is to have a bad time at the Tobacco Factory, where a small space becomes the arena for an epic, and the only concept is the uncovering of the dramatist’s words.
In no other play of Shakespeare’s is the audience encouraged to move so decisively from disdain to sympathy; at Bristol, where the spectators enclose the stage, it is as if they first challenge and later shelter the king. Richard is always fluid, sometimes vaporous; he starts as a wastrel and ends depleted: “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” John Heffernan captures this with his high volatility: he begins with the snickering camp and perpetually flared upper lip of the playboy: he dances on to his throne and sits curled around himself like an ironic question mark. Later, he speaks the famous lines about the death of kings in a murmur, but with absolute incisiveness. When he first appears defeated, in shift and bare feet, he looks like a male Ophelia. In Shakespeare, women are driven mad when they are cheated of love, men when they are deprived of power.
Hilton shifts scale and mood by simple devices: the shadow of a lattice window falls on the floor; the bench in Richard’s prison cell is bleached of colour; the king’s isolation is caught in an opening tableau in which courtiers and plotters bow low in craven, raven black, while Richard in cream-coloured gown looks like a tallow candle.
Jack Bannell’s Harry Percy is light and fiery and Matthew Thomas’s Bullingbrooke convincingly heavy with irritation; as the Duchess of Gloucester, Julia Hills gives in one speech – and a pressing of her hand to her forehead – a vivid sketch not only of grief but of age and failing power. Susannah Clapp
The Morning Star
21st February 2011
In the opening salvo of the RSC’s recent eight-play cycle of Shakespeare’s histories, Richard II focused on the ruthless political power play destined to plunge England into a century of bloody destruction. In this production the play is seen in isolation from the cycle and becomes an intensely personal examination of identity, posing questions about the nature of kingship and of the human condition.
This treatment lends itself to director Andrew Hilton’s benchmark style. His concentration on clarity in language and narrative, never allowing quirky directorial interpretation to cloud meaning, gains maximum impact in a play charting the protagonist’s journey from role-playing to reality.
John Hefferman’s Richard switches moods with quicksilver, manic-depressive energy as his hold on self-regarding power is challenged by the determined, pragmatic Henry Bullingbroke. While Richard clings onto words as a vulnerable lifeline in a sea of political action, Matthew Thomas’s Henry seizes his moment. As the bewildered and heart-broken Richard – ever the actor – hands over the crown, they cling together in a moment of mutual human sympathy.
In his usurped royal role, Henry shrewdly balances punishments with pardons for enemies judged respectively as more or less potentially dangerous. He has learned lessons from his vacillating and doomed predecessor.
Hilton’s approach to Shakespeare results in every actor fully inhabiting his or her role, understanding the full weight of every utterance. This throws new light on much anthologised passages. Benjamin Whitrow’s John of Gaunt’s “sceptred isle” speech, rather than the usual patriotic paean, becomes an angry elegy for a lost world. It’s a reminder, like elsewhere in this production, that behind the panoply of politics there are people with all the human frailties we share. Gordon Parsons
★★★★ The Guardian Shakespeare’s greatest plays have a knack of being timeless and yet thrillingly topical, too. So it is with Andrew Hilton’s commanding production of Richard II, which opens as repressive regimes are feeling the force of popular revolt in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond. The play asks who will replace deposed despots, and how might that shape history?
It does so here with simple staging and only gentle innovations: Hilton seats the royal party in the middle of the audience, and restores the original spelling of Bullingbrooke. This latter move, reminding us that the name includes Bull and a running, unstoppable stream, chimes with Matthew Thomas’s dynamic performance as the usurper: tough, tenacious and a combative orator – think Ed Balls in medieval battle garb.
Exquisitely pitched against this is John Heffernan’s Richard, played as narcissistic with sudden flinches of cruelty, and the physical antithesis of Bullingbrooke: decadently embellished white robes and a tall, slender superiority that convincingly slips later into crumbled, crushed vulnerability.
As always with Hilton’s Shakespeare productions, the focus is on clarity and fluidity of the language, and it is once again a revelation. Even if you know the play well, there are details you will notice anew here, as power commutes from one man to the other: Richard, about to hand the crown over and distressed, saying “Aye, aye” and then “I” for the first time, having lost the royal “We”. There are other notable performances, too, such as Benjamin Whitrow’s affecting portrayal of John of Gaunt.
This engaging retelling makes Shakespeare look so easy to stage, and so applicable to our times. Elizabeth Mahoney
Richard II is one of the first of Shakespeare’s plays that I grew to know well and was, in part, responsible for my love of Shakespeare’s theatre and my desire to be an actor. I was entranced by the language which I longed to be allowed to stand on a stage and speak out. I was also seduced by a notion of medieval England that seemed so much more delightful and colourful than the industrial Lancashire of my childhood, still embraced by post war austerity. I don’t recall being taught that the Black Death and the grinding poverty, high taxation and civil unrest that followed it, were the real context to the reign of a profligate and misguided king.
Shakespeare as the author of a great pageant of English history is a colossal misreading of his work, in which I know I was not alone. As histories the plays are utterly unreliable, but accuracy was never Shakespeare’s purpose. Just as in minor novellas by long-forgotten authors he found the seeds of great plays about justice, love, and jealousy, so in the chronicles of Holinshed, Hall, Froissart and others he found human conflicts that fired his imagination and illuminated themes that he would pursue throughout his career.
It is for this reason that I have no hesitation in offering you Richard II as a single play. Yes, it is the first of a tetralogy (completed by the two parts of Henry IV, and Henry V); and yes, its events lay the seeds of the Wars of the Roses that would bleed England for the greater part of a century. But as a drama it stands quite alone, exploring notions of selfhood and identity that Shakespeare will revisit again and again. The greatest of all creators of roles, he remains one of the greatest analysts of our need to play them. Andrew Hilton
KING RICHARD II
(Lived 1367 – 1400, reigned 1377 – 1399)
‘Richard of Bordeaux’ – he was born in the French city – was the son of the Black Prince who died before he could succeed his father, Edward III. So in 1377 Richard succeeded his grandfather at the age of only 10. In an inauspicious start he fainted during the coronation ceremony.
It was a time of hardship and unrest following the Black Death. The people suffered rising prices and wage restraint, whilst the King and his advisers sought increased taxation to maintain an army in France, prosecuting a war that was being lost. In the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 100,000 men from Essex and Kent marched on London to oppose a new poll tax. It was ruthlessly suppressed – although the 14 year old Richard bravely negotiated with the leader Wat Tyler, even as rebels were sacking London.
After he reached his majority in 1388 Richard enraged the nobility with his extraordinary extravagance and the wealth and favours he bestowed on his closest allies – a handpicked group of largely lower status knights and gentlemen eager to do his bidding. His uncle, Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, and cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (whom Holinshed and Shakespeare spelt ‘Bullingbrooke’ – a spelling, and pronunciation, this production follows), rebelled and ordered the expulsion and death of these upstart favourites, while also attempting to curb the king’s personal powers. After affecting to accept their criticisms, Richard turned on them, having Gloucester murdered in Calais and banishing Bullingbrooke to France. He then confiscated Bullingbrooke’s estates, possibly his decisive error. Backed by a group of powerful nobles (largely from the north of the country) Bullingbrooke returned to England to seize the crown in 1399.
It is believed Richard starved himself to death in February 1400, while being held prisoner at Pontefract Castle. He left no heirs. His first wife, Anne of Bohemia, had died of plague in 1394. His second, Isabella of France, was still only eleven. Shakespeare reimagined her as a mature woman and invents an affecting parting scene between them after his deposition.
Legend alleges Richard was born without skin and spent his early life wrapped in goat’s skin; also that he invented the handkerchief. He was notoriously impetuous, once being restrained from running his sword through the Archbishop of Canterbury for criticising the King’s favouritism. He was also vain, being – as far as we are aware – the first English king to commission a portrait of himself.
However, literature owes him a great debt in that he was Geoffrey Chaucer’s Patron.
AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
The plot of Richard II is actually very simple, and uncomplicated by sub-plots or by a complex fabric of competing dynasties; it centres very much on the struggle between Richard and Henry Bullingbrooke.
There is, however, a critical back-story which may have been more familiar to Shakespeare’s audience than it is to us. This is the murder in Calais – some years before the action of the play – of Richard’s uncle Thomas, the Duke of Gloucester.
Over six hundred years after the event, facts are hard to come by, but it seems that Gloucester, who had acted as Lord Protector during Richard’s minority, later incurred his displeasure, and at the king’s order was spirited out of England to the garrison fortress in English-occupied Calais and there murdered, possibly by smothering under a mattress – though in Richard II Gloucester’s grieving widow recalls that “his sacred blood” was “spilt”, that he was “hack’d down”.
The justification, or lack of it, for this royally ordered assassination was fiercely argued. Gloucester’s defenders were apt to claim that he was killed for quite properly criticising his nephew’s extravagant life style and dangerous misgovernment; more impartial historians relate that he attempted a coup against the King and paid the inevitable price.
Shakespeare’s own audience may have been familiar with an anonymously authored (and untitled) play about the death of Gloucester, which one modern editor has named Thomas of Woodstock, or King Richard the Second, Part One. In this Richard is a completely unsympathetic character, surrounded by vulgar, upstart flatterers, and Gloucester is a saintly innocent, trying only to cherish the health and honour of England and its crown. We cannot be certain that this play was ever performed – or if it was, whether it pre- or post-dated Shakespeare’s play – but it is very tempting to believe that Shakespeare had seen or read it and was consciously setting about a much more subtle and psychologically profound account of Richard’s regime. Gloucester’s saintly spirit seems to find a voice in Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt (Gloucester’s elder brother) and Shakespeare’s Bushy, Bagot and Green to be restrained versions of their more lurid incarnations in the anonymous play.
In Thomas of Woodstock, the king’s guilt is utterly explicit and his agents and methods fully dramatised (Gloucester is strangled); in Richard II the king’s ultimate responsibility is an open secret, but exactly who delivered the fatal blow is hotly debated between Bullingbrooke and Mowbray at the start of the play, and between Aumerle, Bagot and others much later, but the question is never resolved. Perhaps the sheer difficulty of determining and delivering justice is one of the ‘cares’ that Bulingbrooke inherits with the crown.
DATE & SOURCES
King Richard II is believed to have be written in about 1595, roughly contemporary with Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream .
Shakespeare’s primary source was Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles, in particular the second edition of 1589. Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York was also used and it may well be that Shakespeare was familiar with Froissart’s Chronicles, Samuel Daniel’s long poem on the Civil Wars and the anonymous play known to us as Thomas of Woodstock. We quote from some of these below.
The first three quartos (printed in 1597 and 1598) omit the famous ‘deposition’ scene. It is generally assumed that this was as a result of censorship, either by a nervous playhouse or publisher, or by order of the Queen’s Master of the Revels. The fourth quarto of 1608 instates a short version of it, and the 1623 Folio the ‘full’ version we now take as standard. Whether or not the scene was ever censored in performance remains an open question.
The play appears to have played a minor role in the uprising led by Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex. On 7 February 1601, on the eve of his revolt, we believe Essex’s supporters paid Shakespeare’s company, The Chamberlain’s Men, forty shillings “above the ordinary” (i. e. above their usual rate) to stage the play, which the players felt too old and “out of use” to attract an audience. Surprisingly, perhaps, they suffered no royal censure for this, performing for the Queen, in Court, the day before Essex’s execution.
from Raphael Holinshed’s ‘Third Volume of Chronicles’ (1587 Edition)
… an herald in the King’s name with loud voice commanded the Dukes to come before the King, either of them to show his reason, or else to make peace together without more delay. When they were come the King spake himself to them, willing them to agree, and make peace together: for it is (said he) the best way ye can take. The Duke of Norfolk with due reverence hereunto answered it could not be so brought to pass, his honour saved. Then the King asked of the Duke of Hereford, what it was that he demanded of the Duke of Norfolk, and what is the matter that ye can not make peace together, and become friends?
Then stood forth a knight; who asking and obtaining licence to speak for the Duke of Hereford, said: Right dear and sovereign lord, here is Henry of Lancaster Duke of Hereford and Earl of Derby, who saith, and I for him likewise say, that Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk is a false and disloyal traitor to you and your royal majesty, and to your whole realm: and likewise the Duke of Hereford saith and I for him, that Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk hath received eight thousand nobles to pay the soldiers that keep your town of Calais which he hath not done as he ought: and furthermore the said Duke of Norfolk hath been the occasion of all the treason that hath been contrived in your realm for the space of these eighteen yeares, & by his false suggestions and malicious counsel, he hath caused to die and to be murdered your right dear uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, son to King Edward. Moreover, the Duke of Hereford saith, and I for him, that he will prove this with his body against the body of the said Duke of Norfolk within lists. The King herewith waxed angry, and asked the Duke of Hereford if these were his words, who answered: Right dear lord, they are my words, and hereof I require right, and the battle against him.
There was a knight also that asked licence to speak for the Duke of Norfolk, and obtaining it, began to answer thus: Right dear sovereign lord, here is Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk, who answereth and saith, and I for him, that all which Henry of Lancaster hath said and declared (saving the reverence due to the King and his council) is a lie; and the said Henry of Lancaster hath falsely and wickedly lied as a false and disloyal knight, and both hath been and is a traitor against you, your crown, royal majesty, & realm. This will I prove and defend as becommeth a loyal knight to do with my body against his.
The King then demanded of the Duke of Norfolk, if these were his words and whether he had any more to say. The Duke of Norfolk then answered for himself : Right dear Sir, true it is, that I have received so much gold to pay your people of the town of Calais; which I have done, and I do avouch that your town of Calais is as well kept at your commandment as ever it was at any time before, and that there never hath been by any of Calais any complaint made unto you of me. Right dear and my sovereign lord, for the voyage that I made into France, about your marriage, I never received either gold or silver of you, nor yet for the voyage that the Duke of Aumarle & I made into Almane, where we spent great treasure. Marry, true it is that once I laid an ambush to have slain the Duke of Lancaster, that there sitteth: but nevertheless he hath pardoned me thereof, and there was good peace made betwixt us, for the which I yield him hearty thanks. This is that which I have to answer, and I am ready to defend my self against mine adversarie; I beseech you therefore of right, and to have the battle against him in upright judgement.
from Edward Hall’s “The Union of Two Noble Families of Lancaster and York (1548)
At the day appointed the valiant Dukes came to Coventry … About the time of prime, came the Duke of Hereford mounted on a white courser barbed with blue and green velvet embroidered sumptuously with Swans and Antelopes of goldsmiths’ work, armed at all points. The Constable and Marshall came to the barriers demanding of him what he was. He answered : “I am Henry of Lancaster, Duke of Hereford, which am come hither to do my devoir against Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, as a traitor untrue to God, the king, his realm and me.” Then he swore upon the holy Evangelists that his quarrel was true and just. Then he put up his sword which before he held naked in his hand, and put down his visor, made a cross on his forehead, and entered into the lists, and sat him down in a chair of green velvet which was set in a traverse of green and blue velvet at the one end of the lists, and there reposed himself expecting and abiding the coming of his adversary.
Soon after him entered into the field with great pomp King Richard accompanied with all the peers of his realm. The king had above ten thousand persons in harness, lest some fray or tumult might spring amongst his nobles by partaking or quarreling. When the king was set on his stage which was richly hanged and pleasantly adorned, a King at Arms made open proclamation, prohibiting all men to approach or touch any part of the lists upon pain of death, except such as were appointed to order and marshall the field.
The Duke of Norfolk hovered on horseback at the entry of the lists, his horse being barbed with crimson velvet embroidered richly with Lions of silver and Mulberry trees, and when he had made his oath before the Constable and Marshall that his quarel was just and true he entered the field manfully saying aloud, “God aid him that hath the right”, and then he sat down in his chair which was crimson velvet, curtained about with white and red damask. The Lord Marshall viewed their spears to see that they were of equal length, and delivered the one spear himself to the Duke of Hereford, and sent the other spear to the Duke of Norfolk by a knight. The Duke of Hereford was quickly horsed and closed his bavier and cast his spear into its rest & when the trumpet sounded set forward courageously toward his enemy, six or seven paces.
The Duke of Norfolk was not fully set forward when the king cast down his warder & the heralds cried “ho, ho”. Then the king commanded them to repair again to their chairs, where they remained two long hours, while the King and his Council consulted what way was best to be taken in so weighty a cause. Then the Heralds cried silence and Sir John Borcey, secretary to the King, read the sentence and determination of the King and his Council after this manner: “My lords and masters I intimate and notify to you by the King & his Council, that Henry of Lancaster Duke of Hereford appellant, and Thomas Duke of Norfolk defendant, have honourably and valiantly appeared here within the lists royal this day, & have been ready to battle like two valiant knights and hardy champions, but because the matter is great and weighty between these two great princes, this is the order of the King and his Council: that Henry Duke of Hereford for diverse considerations and because he hath displeased the king, shall within fifteen days depart out of the realm for term of ten years, without returning except by the King he be repealed again and that upon pain of death. Then the herald cried again “oyez,” & the secretary declared that Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk, because that he has sown sedition in this realm by his words whereof he can make no proof, shall avoid the realm of England and dwell in Hungary, Beame, Pruce or where he list, & to never return again into England nor approach the confines nor borders of the same upon pain of death …