THEATRE REVIEW: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second starring Simon Russell Beale at the Almeida

WORTH A LOOK?: ***

WHERE? Almeida RUN TIME: 100 minutes (no interval)

WHEN?: 12/1/19, runs to 2/2/19

Buckets of blood, soil and water rain down on the cast in director Joe Hill-Gibbins’ 3rd radical reinterpretation of Shakespeare since 2015.

  • Read on for reasons including what to expect from its NT Live showing next week

Viewers of NTLive, where cinemas broadcast live versions of some of the UK’s most in-demand plays, will discover what all the fuss is about when this airs for the 1st time on Tuesday (15 January) before its encore showings.

We’ve reviewed each of Hill-Gibbins’ last two reinterpretations of Shakespeare and you can read what we thought of 2015’s Measure For Measure and 2017’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both at the Young Vic, because they give a sense of what waits in store here.

The exposed brick walls at the Almeida often make for an easy backdrop at this venue but here they are obscured by the four blank grey walls of what appear to be a prison cell.

Richard II is not 1 of Shakespeare’s simpler plays and reducing it to 100 minutes here with many of the cast playing multiple roles means this tale of a king characterised by indecisiveness and a lack of clarity of thought can itself, at times, seem difficult to follow.

The moment that generated the biggest audience response at this performance was when Saskia Reeves struggled to keep a straight face when she dropped a note off the end of the stage only for a replacement to appear from the pocket of John Mackay.

Given that the supporting cast has much to do, it’s a pleasure to report how well it acquits itself, as is often the case at this venue. We enjoyed the muscular straightforwardness of Martins Imhangbe, Reeves is convincing and Leo Bill is always reliable, here an impressive foil for Russell Beale.

We’ve seen Russell Beale most recently in The Tempest at the Barbican and, for us, our main criticism of that rings true here: that is the over reliance of the visual aspects of the production (here it is the contrast between the contents of those buckets and the bare prison walls). The feel here is of an over-enthusiastic rehearsed reading rather than an especially contemporary take on Shakespeare that cuts through.

However, when Russell Beale is at his twinkly-eyed, charismatic best – as he is for moments here – there are glimpses of him in as beguiling form as he was in Mr Foote’s Other Leg and Temple at the Donmar.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Almeida. Tickets
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham, email neildurham3@gmail.com and check us out on Instagram and Facebook

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