The Barbican’s production of Richard II is the stuff of pure spectacle – big performances, big costumes and big hair.
In pride of place as the doomed King is David Tennant, probably the most bankable Shakespearian actor of his generation. His Richard is an extravagantly maned, wonderfully flamboyant anti-hero. Tennant seems like a likeable chap, and this seeps into his interpretation of the King. Even when he’s taking the country to war or callously raiding the coffers of a dying friend, there’s a serendipity to him – being the King looks like a spiffing lark.
Tennant’s greatest achievement is marrying Richard’s simultaneous acceptance and denial of his fate, and a scene in which there is a literal and metaphorical tug of war over the crown is a highlight. After he capitulates to Bolingbroke, even his flowing locks seem to lose their lustre.
Tennant is well supported, not least by Nigel Lyndsay (last seen taking the Radio Norwich team hostage in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa) as the power-hungry Bolingbroke.
A slight sag towards the end of the first half aside, it’s an enjoyable romp, but I can’t help feeling that the pretty clothes and intricate set mask a slight lack of substance. It’s good fun, but it’s not the definitive telling of this dark tragedy that its blockbuster cast allow you to hope for.
First published in City A.M.