Theater Review: Richard II

From Nov. 19 to 22, the 5-C Department of Theatre and Dance presented Shakespeare’s Richard II. First performed in 1595, the show tells the story of the events leading to King Richard II being deposed by Henry Bolingbroke, who later becomes King Henry IV. The fifth of Shakespeare’s 11 history plays about the English royalty, it is rarely performed, lending the show its advertising tagline: “When’s the last time you went to a Shakespeare play not knowing what happens?”Even with this initial veil of mystery, the cast made the show’s events clear and their characters relatable despite the famously dense text. The first scene opens with Richard II (Sam Gold PO ’11) arbitrating a dispute between two of his noblemen, Henry Bolingbroke (Christopher Coughlin PI ’10) and Thomas Mowbray (Matt Helm PO ’11). The king orders a jousting tournament to resolve the dispute, but suddenly changes his mind and banishes the two men from England. Both leave for France, but Bolingbroke soon amasses an army and invades England, first to reclaim his lands, which Richard had seized at his exiling, and later to take the throne for himself.Gold as Richard and Coughlin as Henry both delivered strong performances, illustrating the respective fall and rise of their characters. Richard’s descent into madness after he loses the power of the throne was well paced, matching the king’s declining mental state to his gradual fall from power. Similarly, Henry’s growing pride and coldness grew along with the victories of his rebellion. Both actors translated the text, which can be dense to the point of unintelligibility on the page, into vivid, rounded characters to be pitied, despised, or revered.Major supporting cast members included Marshall Anderson PI ’12 as the Duke of York and theatre faculty member Darren Blaney as John of Gaunt. Both actors were playing characters far beyond their years but still conveyed an air of age and experience. Though their characters are not as fully developed as Richard and Henry, the actors portrayed the grief and confusion of their roles well and helped to vividly illustrate the progression of events.The elaborate set and costumes created the ambience of late Middle Ages England. The enormous castle set was designed to look like a ruin and filled the stage imposingly. The opulent student-built costumes, including several enormous robes with floor-length sleeves for Richard and Henry, also added to the atmosphere.Overall, the show was a strong close to the fall theatre season, hopefully to be followed by more strong productions in the spring.

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