‘Richard II’, Kiss Me Like A Traitor

Did I give the game away? No? Well if you don’t like spoilers, then I’m not sure I know what you’re doing here.

And by spoilers I mean the director’s interpretation (the text has, after all, been around for a while).

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 seems to have decided to highlight an element of the piece that has, to my knowledge, never been done in this vain. 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).

So I turned to my companions to ask if this was another one of those examples, in case I was missing something.

Nope”. Okey-dokes, on with the show.

In reality, there is no way I can discuss this performance without mentioning Richard’s on-stage sexuality, because for the most part it did work. If it worked for the entire show, I might have only mentioned it in passing, but alas, not quite. 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 current lecturer has said, the sexuality of the King wouldn’t have been highlighted if it hadn’t been lurking somewhere in the text, and I’m inclined to 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 maaaybe 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.

WHERE IT WORKED

Hands down, Richard’s ‘favourites’ (no, really!) 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, as well as their evident casting choices: tall, somewhat buff and able to pull off leggings with no questions asked. 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. Richard had his own fan club!

https://i0.wp.com/www.rsc.org.uk/images/content/Productions-2013/Richard-II-2013-9-361x541.jpg

2013. ‘Richard II’. Gregory Doran. Oliver Rix as ‘Aumerle’ and David Tennant as ‘King Richard’. Kwame Lestrade Photography.

As for Aumerle, I have no complaints. He played the bubbling turmoil of his feelings for Richard, and what eventually transpired to be reluctant disloyalty in the end, incredibly well. 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 where his tears subside, the share a look, almost an understanding of each others pain. And they kiss. Richard takes Aumerle to his chest as comfort before continuing his monologue. 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?

Nigel Lindsay as Henry Bolingbroke and David Tennant as Richard II in Richard II. Photo by Kwame Lestrade

2013. ‘Richard II’. Gregory Doran. Nigel Lindsay as ‘Bolingbroke’ and David Tennant as ‘King Richard’. Kwame Lestrade Photography.

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.

Luckily, I saw the live-screening of this last year (a phenomenon I’m still trying to get my head around; I’ve seen 4 live-screenings so far, and I still can’t work out the etiquette) and yes, it really has taken me this long to get round to writing about it.

However, the replays are still doing the rounds, so by all means go!


‘Richard II’ at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

If you have no reason, let me help you:

  • Use Tennant sashaying around the stage looking fabulous as your reason.
  • See Jane Lapotaire return to the stage after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage in 2000.
  • Buff men in tights.
  • The set, lighting and music is stunningly used (the chains as a backdrop for projection were definitely nicked for ‘A Christmas Carol)
  • The costume designs. I might have slightly fallen for them. Well, except for the deliberate nipple display at the end on Richard’s rags. Those holes didn’t get there by accident.
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2 thoughts on “‘Richard II’, Kiss Me Like A Traitor

    • Hey, if you like your men in tights, then I don’t think the appeal stops at the ladies. I’m equal opportunities :) The cast alone made me giddy with joy, but you have to find incentives somewhere.

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