A worthy endeavour: Richard II at Sam Wanamaker Theatre
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe
Gallery C29, £10
22 February 2019
Having so recently seen a production of Richard II that I didn’t get on with at all set my bar pretty low for this version at the Sam Wanamaker. Linear storytelling! Recognizable characters! Shakespeare’s play, a little trimmed but otherwise in-tact! What luxury. Such things do make a play more entertaining, and in consequence I enjoyed following the story, thinking about motivation and relishing smashing Shakespeare in my old-fashioned way.
With the low bar cleared, what was the identity of this production itself? While Adjoa Andoh and Lynette Linton’s direction was more or less straightforward, their casting was not, and whatever my feelings about anything else that casting certainly makes the whole endeavour worthwhile. Perhaps there will come a time when it will seem unremarkable to have female actors in leading roles, or for a cast to include almost no Caucasians; that good day will surely only be ushered in by efforts such as this. It is refreshing to hear this text spoken by British accents that are not RP, it is encouraging to see a representation of British diversity on a stage unquestionably part of the arts establishment, and frankly it is a great decision for this particular play at this particular time, in its pursuit of a definition of Britishness. One must hope that other artistic companies follow the Globe’s example.
It’s not all sweetness and loveliness, however, and it’s possible my admiration for Andoh stops there abruptly. As a director everything is all clear and straightforward and fine. As an actor she doesn’t half lay it on thick. Initially I enjoyed the odd thrill at the power of her voice, and the text’s allusions to a fiery and hot-tempered Richard fulfilled by Andoh as no other Richard I’ve seen. But even half of Richard II overwhelmed my appetite for Andoh’s guts-and-all churning and gurning. I felt my will sap with each greedy chewing mouthful she ripped from the scenery; had she not finally died I might have needed to take drastic measures to free myself from the gruesome caul of her ego. Good god. A monotonous heaving Richard is a difficult thing to bear, and for all my gratitude for the production I will be glad never to subject myself to that much Andoh ever again.
The rest of the cast were all good, withstanding a few heinous fluffs to be expected on first night. I particularly admired Ayesha Dharker as Aumerle and the amazingly named Lourdes Faberes in a variety of roles; they each held a poise and firm gravitas a universe apart from the enraged bawling of Andoh. I’m afraid I would question the choreography – no one is credited but I assume Yarit Dor as movement and fight director must take the blame for making this clearly very accomplished set of women look nervous and awkward. Perhaps another thing to be attributed to the first night.
The designs by Rajha Shakiry are all very pretty and gleaming, making sensible use of the candlelight to create a world of intimate beauty. That’s all thrown out with a bizarre closing gesture that paints an enormous St George’s cross over the theatre, an in-your-face and unwelcome idea that seemed like the last spiteful nail in the coffin after hours and hours of Andoh ramming herself down my throat. The music by Dominique Le Gendre doesn’t meet the Sam Wanamaker Theatre’s extraordinarily high standards but that perhaps will as well improve as the run goes on. But essentially designs, music and even Andoh are beside the point: everything about this production is good enough to make the case resolutely that there is no reason for the British stage to be as homogenous as it often seems.
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