'Richard II' is back - with pathos, poetry
By popular demand, Richard II returned to Nottingham Playhouse last night with several changes in cast since its original production last January, but still featuring John Neville as the deposed king. Although it is ten years since this actor electrified Old Vic audiences with his portrayal of Richard, his performance has lost none of its power in wringing all the pathos and poetry from the role. Here is no petulant weakling (as some actors define the part) but a man too proud at first to bend his knee to a sacrilegious usurper, and then too dignified in defeat to plead for mercy. His submission may sound superficially like surrender, but it is couched in terms of such blistering sarcasm and irony that his foes have little choice but to put him to death.
Opposing him this time as the haughty Bolingbroke is Alan Howard.
Here is a performance which makes a striking contrast with the gentle, pleasure-seeking, but still dedicated Richard.
This Bolingbroke is a modern dictator, bent on the single purpose of gaining the power and sceptre of the man who cheated him. It is quite overwhelming, because in one sense we know he has a certain right on his side. But the king still has our sympathy.
Harold Innocent, as Northumberland, gives another impressive performance as the man behind the new throne.
And Alfred Bell's playing of the rather pitiful Aumerle - Richard's sole supporter after the deposed king's other 'friends' have paid the price for their fawning allegiance by losing their heads - commands our sympathy.
Christopher Hancock, as York, is the worried peacemaker as before, and Ronald Magill as the usurper's aged father expresses his contempt of Richard's rule with one of the most famous soliloquies in Shakespeare.
The women in this play have not much to do but look sorrowful, as Marion Foster does very well in the part of Richard's queen, or storm, as Ursula Smith does equally well in the scene in which she pleads for mercy for her son.
The play is staged on Peter Gray's original set, solid and impressive, and deserves as much success this season as it earned during the last.
Nottingham Evening Post, 9.10.65.