A king ordained by God is consumed with his vanity,
with the threat of civil war between England’s royal houses in his hands.
Directed by Gregory Doran, he’s taken a distinct route with this King that I’ve never come across before.
With Henry VI, because he was crowned at nine months, the age that Shakespeare has his Henry is still quite young. Invariably, actors play him slightly camp to infuse it with childlike air. It’s also important to note this is the first I have seen a Richard II performance, so I had nothing to connect it with other than the aforementioned Henry (his cousin).
Was this one of those times?
“Nope”, according to the watch-party. Okey-dokes, on with the show.
WHERE IT WORKED
There’s no way I can discuss this performance without mentioning Richard’s on-stage sexuality, because for the most part it did work – had it worked for the entire show, I might have only mentioned it in passing. And I say on-stage because, from what I can gather, the text implies rather than confirms (what history says is another matter).
As my lecturer said, the sexuality of the King wouldn’t have been highlighted if it hadn’t been lurking somewhere in the text, and I agree. A man who likes his and others’ appearance of a certain standard, with the three male equivalents of ladies-in-waiting permanently following him around, commands mainly men of his house and is generally surrounded by men. His Queen is rarely in his company, because, like I said, his company is usually men. It isn’t that far a stretch of the imagination that maybe he might like men, too.
I side with bisexuality rather than homosexuality not because suggesting the latter is blasphemous in some way. But based on the text itself and the way in which David Tennant played Richard, particularly in relation to his Queen, attraction and affection was present in way that didn’t suggest anything other than genuine.
Hands down, Richard’s ‘favourites’ Bushy, Bagot and Green, and the characterisation of Aumerle (Oliver Rix). The favourites really were treated like his favourites, emphasised by the colour coding and slim fittings of their clothes. Although there were only three of them, they always appeared to be a tight swarm around Richard, only moving when he and the others did, like one mind.
The bubbling turmoil of Aumerle’s feelings for Richard, and what eventually transpired to be reluctant disloyalty in the end – the kiss they share was well deserved of the ante until that point. Richard is resigned to give over his kingdom, his possessions, subjects and home to Henry. Aumerle cries, and rightly so. Then in that moment when his tears subside, they share a look, almost an understanding of each others pain. And they kiss. Richard takes Aumerle to his chest for comfort. It just made sense.
It made even more sense when, instead of the nobleman Exton, Aumerle is the one who kills Richard. The hurt, the betrayal, the fear, it all crashed together in a sea of anguish.
WHERE IT DIDN’T WORK
The duel between Bolingbroke and Mowbray. Or rather, when Richard comes down from his throne and gave Bolingbroke a big ol’ smacker on the lips before the duel began. The reason I’m proffering that it didn’t work is more to do with the social context than anything else.
In a nutshell, there had to be a King and/or Queen in the royal house (ideally King, of course). Whatever other proclivities royalty enjoyed, it couldn’t be brought to light by any means, regardless of how comfortable you were with your court. So by him openly kissing the duke of Hereford in front of everyone, what does that suggest?
Everyone’s actually totally groovy with Richard’s sexuality? Richard’s kissed everyone at least once before, it just so happens this is the only staged one? The emphasis on having a King and Queen in the house was, in reality, to ensure procreation of the lineage, but the fact that nobody reacts in any way says a lot more than it should.