Who's the fairest of them all?: |Michael Pennington (John of Gaunt) |from the back, Nigel Lindsay (Henry Bolingbroke) and David Tennant (Richard II).
Who's the fairest of them all?: |Michael Pennington (John of Gaunt) |from the back, Nigel Lindsay (Henry Bolingbroke) and David Tennant (Richard II).

Bard’s play sparkles on screen

By Diane De Beer Time of article published Jan 24, 2014

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Richard II (the first of Live from |Stratford-upon-Avon)

DIRECTOR: Gregory Doran

CAST: David Tennant (Richard II), Oliver Ford Davies (Duke of York), Michael Pennington (John of Gaunt), Jane Lapotaire as Duchess of Gloucester

DATES: Saturday, January 25, for four screenings only, Cinema Nouveau sites and Somerset Mall in Somerset West, Blue Route Mall in Cape Town and Bedford Centre in Johannesburg.

RATING: ****


If you’ve seen Richard II on stage in South Africa, you’re probably one of the few. Someone could remember a Cape Town production starring Neil McCarthy but even those steeped in theatre couldn’t recall more.

Searching the web, the only production I could find was in 1990, when Keith Grenville directed the play at the Nico Malan Theatre, with McCarthy in the title role, which also travelled to the 1990 Grahamstown Festival. That’s apart from the first one in 18-something.

It’s a rare beast locally and sadly so because of the driving forces which make it so relevant today in the age of greed and power overdrive the world has been experiencing for the past decade particularly.

Shakespeare would suggest not so – it’s not new and has been around it seems for all time. It’s as if he is writing about today. That’s scary but again underlines his brilliance.

When seeing a play that you don’t know well or at all, especially Shakespeare, you have to jump in from the start and with this kind of quality, you’re well rewarded.

Richard, of course, is king. He believes he is a monarch ordained by God to lead his people. But he is also a man of deep human weakness whose vanity threatens to divide the great families of England.

This later erupts into civil war, which lasts for 100 years.

He grew up most of his life living as a king. He was crowned at the age of 10 and with this comes a certainty that this is who you are; different to other people and above reproach. When you do something that others might regard as evil, you turn a blind eye and find ways to make it work. No one talks against you or shows you the way, and when they do, like in North Korea, you simply take him out.

Doran (now head of the Royal Shakespeare Company and of local interest, Antony Sher’s partner) and Tennant play it interestingly. They give Tennant’s Richard II god-like status, even dressing him like the Son of God. He almost floats on stage in a white robe and flowing hair and plays Richard in a way that sets him apart from the rest of the ensemble and further advances the notion that he is apart from the fray.

How easily people with too much power seem to stumble. Shakespeare saw it then and we see it now.

The play was written in about 1595 and we’re still learning.

Shakespeare keeps us on our toes and with all the shenanigans going on locally, it couldn’t have been a better choice as the first Shakespeare from the RSC to reach our screens. It’s magnificently done, with sets that sparkle in a fresh way.

Brilliant performances, led by Tennant, easily walk you through this one.

The real star of the show is still Shakespeare. This play in particular because Richard so wantonly walks over anything and everything others hold dear when he wants his way – and he believes it is his right.

Though the RSC screenings follow a similar formula to the National Theatre Live ones, there is less time wasted as they start with interviews before the show commences.

During the interval it is one interview after another, all of which enhance the understanding and appreciation of the production.

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