JOYCE MCMILLAN on RICHARD II at the Botanic Gardens Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 25.7.15.
4 stars ****
IN HISTORIC TERMS, Richard II is the opening drama of Shakespeare’s great history cycle, the sad tale of how the last Plantagenet king was defeated and deposed by his more vigorous cousin Bolingbroke, and a play entirely shaped by Shakespeare’s visceral horror at the idea of an anointed king being robbed of his throne.
In this bravely rethought version, though – staged in the elegant setting of the Kibble Palace, lightly camped-up by designer Gillian Argo – Bard In The Botanics associate director Jennifer Dick judges that Shakespeare’s agonising over the fate of a king who wasn’t very good at the job might be of less interest to the audience than the story of Richard’s relationship with his friend Aumerle, the closeness of which was one – although only one – of the causes of Richard’s unpopularity.
So what she gives us, over two hours, is a full-blown gay romance, complete with arresting modern score featuring Morrissey and others. Robert Elkin is a bruised and fragile Richard in tight leather trousers, who sometimes rushes the formidable poetry attached to the role, but is capable of extraordinary flashes of steely royal fury; Adam Donaldson is tender and vulnerable as Aumerle, Emma Claire Brightlyn fiercely emphatic as a female Bolingbroke, and Finlay McLean in fine voice as the play’s elder statesmen. And if the overall effect of this tightly focussed production is uneven, and sometimes oddly repetitive, it still makes for a fascinating evening; not quite Marlowe’s Edward II, with its clear-cut portrait of a king killed by homophobia, but something much more like it than Richard II is often allowed to be.
Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, until 2 August.