Reasons for Rosalind

As You Like It, Tobacco Factory Bristol, 22 February 2014

The production was the first to offer seat reservation for the Tobacco Factory theatre’s luxurious new benches. This professional, compact seating installation replaced the previous wooden tiered platforms and plastic chairs, freeing enough space to add an extra 5ft to the width of the performance area.

The costumes were vaguely Victorian, and in 1.1 we met downtrodden Orlando (Jack Wharrier), a slightly bland figure compared with Rosalind and Celia, the production’s main focus of attention, as well as white-whiskered Adam (Paul Nicholson) dressed as a formal retainer.

Because of the hard stone floor, the fight between Orlando and Oliver (Matthew Thomas) was mostly done standing up with Orlando grabbing his opponent by the throat and pressing him against the stage pillar. Orlando pointedly emphasised that his father was called Sir Rowland de Boys, an interesting touch that underlined Orlando’s awareness of his own nobility.

Charles Exposition (Peter Basham) was a London-accented thug wrestler. Oliver was a mildly creepy presence, but his soliloquy at the end of the scene conveyed not so much his character’s villainy but rather his confusion at why he hated his brother: this glimmer of Oliver’s virtuous side prepared us for his conversion to goodness towards the end.

Our first view of the two central female characters showed them languishing in forced leisure and discontent. Celia (Daisy May) practised the violin slowly and deliberately with an air of boredom while Rosalind (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) sat and tried to write in a notebook, intermittently shaking her pen to force ink into the nib (1.2). This was a good piece of economical scene and mood setting.

Touchstone (Vic Llewellyn) was a Victorian music hall comedian, while Monsieur le Beau (Vincenzo Pellegrino) was remarkable for being 6ft 5” tall. The text was cut to remove the obtuse legal joke referencing the phrase “by these presents”.

Duke Frederick (Chris Bianchi) wore a formal black uniform and was surrounded by his courtiers, casually brandishing their brandy glasses, as they looked forward to the wrestling as post-dinner entertainment. A mat was laid onto the floor to make the falls safer.

At their first encounter there was no real sign of any spark between Rosalind and Orlando, and this was possibly justified by the strained situation.

The staged fight ended implausibly with Orlando slamming Charles’ head so it struck the ground stunning him. This was weakest part of the performance, and raised the question whether this had been the only way to stage Orlando’s convincing victory.

Rosalind presented Orlando with a necklace and stood close to him until Celia stretched her hand out and encouraged her to leave. Rosalind took Celia’s hand and walked away with her gaze still fixed on Orlando. But Orlando’s dumbstruck expression was a little too immobile and could have been slightly more animated.

Rosalind returned again to speak with Orlando before finally leaving; it was still obvious that she was in love.

The production went with the “shorter was his daughter” variant for reasons of physiological accuracy.

Rosalind and Celia’s discussion about Orlando began with the delightful spectacle of the pair in their nightgowns lying on the floor of their dimly lit shared bedroom, gabbing about Rosalind’s new fancy (1.3).

They teased and slapped each other playfully before a full-on squee when Rosalind referred obliquely to Orlando as her “child’s father”.

The lights went up as Duke Frederick entered the room accompanied by his goons, suggesting that he had turned on the bedroom lights to compound his rude interruption of their intimacy. Rosalind was ordered to leave the court. She protested bravely, but the Duke grabbed her by the hair and dragged her almost to the floor before she could finish speaking.

The pair made their preparations to set off for Arden and Rosalind shouted offstage, labelling the new Duke as one of many “mannish cowards”.

The order of scenes in act two was rearranged.

Firstly, Adam and Orlando fled the court (2.3). This was followed by our first view of Duke Senior (Chris Bianchi again) and his merry men in their long coats in the forest (2.1).

The doubling of the dukes meant that the transition to 2.2 involved a quick change for Chris Bianchi back into the fiendish Duke Frederick. Hisperia (Hannah Lee) appeared and spoke the words that in the text are merely her reported speech.

The refugees arrived in Arden (2.4). Rosalind, wearing in her flat cap and squeezed into a tweed suit by binding her chest, comforted the weary, straggling Celia. She claimed that “britches” (and not “doublet and hose”) “ought to show itself courageous to petticoat”.

They sat on the stage right pillar to watch Silvius (Ben Tolley) tell Corin (Alan Coveney) of his unrequited love for Phebe. Touchstone’s reminiscing about Jane Smile was illustrated with phallic gestures made with his ukulele case. Rosalind arranged to buy Silvius’ farm and the two women departed, leaving Touchstone to carry all their luggage.

Paul Currier’s Jaques was a bespectacled, bookish, ascetic type (2.5). Not satisfied with Amiens’ (Offue Okegbe) repertoire, he finished scribbling a song in his notebook before tearing out the page to hand it to the musician. The other foresters were sat around in a circle and became the target of the “ducdame” remark, rather than the audience.

The foresters were plunged into darkness, while Adam and Orlando were lit at the stage left side, as the young man promised to find food for his elderly companion (2.6).

The foresters’ camp was bare but effective, with heat from a brazier and real food (2.7).

Orlando rushed in threatening them with his sword but was then horribly embarrassed at it in a very English way when he realised they were civilised men.

Jaques’ seven ages speech began light-heartedly, including when he mocked the “childish treble” of the “slippered pantaloon”, but then veered into a moment of severe gravity when Adam was carried in and held as an exemplar of a man “sans everything”. As with most productions, this one demonstrated that the “hour to hour” joke only works in original pronunciation.

As Adam sat and ate, Amiens and the others sang “Blow, blow, thou winter wind”. Jaques was still in a sulk, so the singers directed “this life is most jolly” pointedly at him, in one of the production’s occasional flashes of inspiration.

A quick change swapped over dukes and Oliver appeared from under a coat as the location instantly flipped back to the court for Oliver’s interrogation about his missing brother (3.1).

Illuminated by pale artificial moonlight to bring out the sequence’s Diana references, Orlando pinned his love verse on a stage pillar (3.2).


The debate between Corin and Touchstone was underscored by comic business. The clown had some country muck on his shoe, which he tried to clean off unsuccessfully. He took off the shoe and also tried to remove one of his stockings, enlisting an audience member to help. He gave the soiled shoe to Corin, who scraped off the muck with a knife that he then used to cut an apple, offering a slice to Touchstone, who understandably refused.

Rosalind read one of the verses written in her honour, which Touchstone subverted with his bawdy song, getting the audience to join in with the “Rosalind” punchline. But he played a mean trick by pausing for the punchline at “Love’s…”, a gap which the trusting audience filled with “Rosalind” prompting Touchstone’s immediate correction. This audience participation worked very well in Tobacco Factory space.

With Corin and Touchstone gone, Rosalind asked Celia who had written the verses in an upbeat, playful mood that prepared us for the squeal that resulting from the revelation of Orlando’s authorship.

The original line referencing Rosalind’s disguise of doublet and hose was rewritten to “What shall I do with these?”, which felt unnecessary. The audience should be able to ‘get’ that doublet and hose equates to male attire.

Fantasising about a clinch with Orlando, Rosalind squeezed the stage pillar that for her represented “Jove’s tree”.

Rosalind and Celia lay prone on ground to spy on Orlando and Jaques, but this limited their ability to respond and to be seen responding. Orlando teased Jaques with the idea that he would see a fool drowned in the brook, and Jaques’ retort “There I shall see mine own figure” was one of indignant surprise at being so characterised.

Rosalind adopted a male voice to ask Orlando “Do you hear, forester?” as he crouched on the ground. But he showed no particular interest in her. She then asked him “what is’t o’clock?” but his answer “there’s no clock in the forest” was similarly dismissive.

This initial resistance meant that Rosalind’s ensuing anecdote about Time was a desperate attempt to engage his interest. Her flailing efforts to make him notice her added an interesting tension to the sequence. But by the end of the anecdote he was on his feet and absorbing what she had to say.

Rosalind began to relish this attention, so that when Orlando commented on her voice being refined, she exuded a distinct pride as she continued to invent her own backstory involving a religious uncle. This growing confidence fed into her jocular laddish dismissiveness of women.

All this time Celia sat on a chair and looked unimpressed. Orlando revealed that he was the author of the love verse, and after saying that “Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much” he was in love with Rosalind, he turned away. Celia immediately started gesturing at Rosalind to get stuck in, with the implication that Rosalind should throw off her disguise and reveal herself. Rosalind looked back at Celia, paused, reflected, and then continued with “Love is merely a madness…” telling Orlando that she proposed curing love “by counsel”.

This provided a neat explanation for Rosalind does not simply bring the story to a close at this point when she has a clear opportunity. The staging here made it plain that Rosalind was fighting to stay in her adopted character. She had worked hard to attract Orlando’s attention and once she had won it, she was paralysed with fear: staying in character as Ganymede was the easier option.

Rosalind was thoroughly caught up in her own game and departed with Orlando to show him the cote. She called back “Come sister, will you go?” to a stunned Celia who was visibly befuddled by the turn of events. At this point the interval came.

At the start of the second half we were introduced to Touchstone’s paramour Audrey (Hannah Lee again) (3.3). The text was altered so that “Doth my simple feature content you?” was met with “Which feature?” creating a bawdy joke. Touchstone made a point of showing us his reversible jacket which was now turned outwards to display bright red, completing his transfer from court to country.

Martext was played by the tall Vincenzo Pellegrino (same actor as Le Beau) with the added comedy of him trying unsuccessfully to pickpocket Touchstone at the end of the scene. Thieving then became the “calling” out of which he refused to be flouted.

Rosalind and Celia sat in their cote, with Rosalind rocking on her chair playing with a paper salt cellar. She diverted herself from her unhappiness at Orlando’s no-show by gleefully recounting how she had met her father, the old Duke, in her disguise.

At Corin’s bidding they both ran out to see Silvius and Phebe (Sophie Whittaker), who appeared from the main entrance immediately afterwards, changing the central performance area from inside the cote to outside (3.5). The friends watched from the edge.

Once Phebe had fallen for Ganymede, Rosalind hinted at how she was “falser than vows made in wine” by caressing her body, implying that something unexpected lurked underneath her binding.

Jaques was sat waiting for Rosalind in the cote when they arrived back, creating a connection with the previous scene – he had arrived there while they were occupied with Silvius and Phebe (4.1). Rosalind played along and sat at the table opposite him, pouring Jaques a drink as she criticised “drunkards”.

Jaques’ parting shot was changed unnecessarily to refer to “riddles” rather than “blank verse”, an alteration that made absolutely no sense. Rosalind followed him out, addressing her “gondola” remark to his back.

Rosalind was very pained at Orlando’s delayed arrival. Again Celia sat on her chair and commented sarcastically on this game by chipping in “but he hath a Rosalind of a better leer than you”. This was a continuation of Celia’s urging of Rosalind to throw off her disguise and get on with the serious business of introducing herself to Orlando.

With her next words, Rosalind seemed to pick up on and respond to Celia’s urgency. Describing herself as being “in a holiday humour and like enough to consent”, she cast a glance back at Celia that indicated that she had got the point and that also asked Celia whether this change of tack were sufficient.

Rosalind sat at the table opposite Orlando. He insisted that he would “kiss before I spoke” and leant across intending to plant one on her. At this, she rose, fended him off and backed away. But she was not above flirting with Orlando. Insisting that she would not think her “honesty ranker than my wit”, she sashayed and accentuated her hips, bringing out the sensual meaning of “wit”.

Rosalind was completely serious that she would have Orlando “Fridays and Saturdays and all”. But Orlando took offence at Rosalind saying “Ay, and twenty such”, so that the following exchange of short sentences was quizzical and terse.

The mock marriage gave her further encouragement and Rosalind became overly enthusiastic when taking Orlando for her husband. Realising she had caused him embarrassment, she withdrew and apologised for getting ahead of herself.

Her air of skittishness was only increased when she laughed like a hyena during her long list of things she would do once they were married.

Celia scoffed loudly when Orlando said that his Rosalind was wise. This was another facet of Celia’s continuing disapproval of Rosalind’s disguise game. In response, Rosalind glanced at Celia, making her next words “Or else she could not have the wit to do this” an assertion of her cleverness and a justification of the long game she was playing.

Orlando had to leave again for another two hours, causing Rosalind serious upset. By 4.1.176 she could not disguise her disappointment and pleaded with him in a whiny voice not to be late back. Orlando picked up on this and drew close, put his hand on the curve of her hip and looked into her eyes, before checking himself and making yet another embarrassed retreat.


After the brief scene of the deer hunt (4.2), Rosalind read the letter brought by Silvius from Phebe (4.3).

Oliver’s appearance and rehabilitation was pleasingly credible, building on his initial glimmer of decency to make his present conversion to goodness convincing.

Rosalind fainted backwards on seeing the napkin stained with Orlando’s blood and her cap tumbled off. Oliver pulled her upright and she slumped forwards pressing into him with her chest, which although it was strapped down doubtless made an impression.

She stood in her male attire with her woman’s hair uncovered and gestured with her hand behind her back at Celia, who retrieved Rosalind’s cap and placed it in her grasp, enabling her to reposition it as she dismissed her collapse as counterfeiting. Oliver gave subtle signs that he had seen through Rosalind’s disguise.

Touchstone and Audrey bickered about their failed wedding (5.1). Taking advantage of Audrey’s disenchantment, her old fame William (Peter Basham again) boldly walked up to her, undid his fly and introduced himself. Audrey did not seem to object to this attention, and it was left to Touchstone to intervene and separate the pair with his threats.

Oliver explained to Orlando about his sudden affection for Celia (5.2). He left soon after Rosalind turned up and his farewell “and you, fair sister” verged on a knowing taunt.

Orlando’s arm was not bound in a scarf. He told Rosalind that his brother had imparted “greater wonders than that” in a subtle, but not overt, hint that he knew what was going on.

Orlando did not want to look at happiness through his brother’s eyes. Rosalind shook his hand to part, saying that she would weary him no longer “with idle talking”. But she kept hold of his hand as she began to explain her scheme.

The “What it is to love” sequence was pleasant enough, but could have benefited from some music, which the production had provided at other points.

The musical interlude scene (5.3) contained a running gag continuing the theme of Audrey’s disenchantment with Touchstone and dalliance with William. As the song progressed, Audrey danced ever more lasciviously with William until she ended up straddling him. Touchstone’s closing complaints about the “foolish song” formed a muted criticism of her behaviour.

The wedding guests gathered (5.4). Posing yet more problems for Touchstone, Audrey took advantage of his conversation with the Duke to hitch up her dress slowly, casting enticing oeillades at Orlando, until Touchstone noticed and instructed her to bear her body “more seeming”.

There was another attempt at audience participation that unfortunately fell rather flat. Jaques and Touchstone’s repartee about the seven degrees of the lie concluded with a digression on the word “if”. The word was repeated several times and when it was due for another mention, Touchstone turned to me and paused waiting for me to fill in, much as the whole audience had done when he had played with the name “Rosalind”. He stared for a few seconds, while I returned a blank look, and then continued.

Rosalind, now in her wedding dress, was ushered into the assembled company by Hymen (Offue Okegbe). The reunions were followed by the couples kneeling to have wedding bands wrapped around their hands.

The seeming implausibility of Duke Frederick’s conversion and the restoration of Duke Senior to his rightful place provided an opportunity for the old duke to demonstrate some of the virtue that had made him a good ruler.

Duke Senior could have luxuriated in his restoration. But instead his first action was to approach the elderly Adam and help him to his feet telling the others to “forget this new-fall’n dignity”.

After the rustic revelry dancing, Rosalind and Orlando kissed. The entire cast exited except Rosalind who, realising she was being left alone on stage, followed a little way and called after them “It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue”, as if complaining at being left to perform it. The text was changed from “If I were a woman” to “As I am a woman” and Rosalind, on this occasion, managed to find a man with a beard that pleased her.


This production did a very good job of suggesting a convincing reason why Rosalind does not abandon her disguise on meeting Orlando in the forest.

Once again Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory has delivered a quality product, with the intimacy of the space, the thoughtful direction and accomplished performances all contributing to its value.

Tobacco Factory Theatre

Tobacco Factory Theatre



Reinventing the language of candlelight

The Duchess of Malfi, The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 9 January 2014

Introducing the playhouse

The first thing that strikes you when entering the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is way the antique design of the building is rendered in clean, bright, fresh new oak. The light colour of the galleries and stage contrasts with the elegant black frons scenae. This mostly absorbs light, only its gold detailing throws flickers of it back into the room, creating a dark backdrop against which the cast stands out. This effect is enhanced if, as here with the Duchess of Malfi herself, a costume sparkles with sequins.

Performances at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse are lit by a combination of candlelight and artificial daylight that enters through windows in the lower gallery access corridor.

The beeswax candles are long-lasting and do not need to be trimmed at act breaks allowing performances to proceed with only one interval. The playhouse is fitted with a powerful air extraction system, so that far from being hot and smoky, the atmosphere is unusually chilly and fresh. A sophisticated smoke detector can differentiate between candle smoke and fire. Just to be on the safe side, the costumes are fireproofed.

Seven candelabras each carry twelve candles; ten sconces fitted to gallery pillars contain each two candles; candles are fitted to the musicians’ gallery; and actors also carry handheld candelabra or single candles. Over 100 candles are required for each performance and some 3,000 are stored onsite.

Shutters can be closed over the windows in the lower gallery corridor to recreate the way Jacobean daytime performances would have sealed off external windows to simulate nighttime. The candelabras can be raised and lowered, which alternately dims and brightens the stage. Candelabras and scones can be extinguished to create total darkness and then relit by the cast. Handheld candles can be used like portable spotlights to light the holder or their interlocutor, and can also be placed on the stage.

These elements can be combined in multiple permutations to create a wide variety of lighting effects.

The real excitement of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is witnessing the reinvention of candlelit performance as 21st century theatre makers rediscover the artistic possibilities of indoor theatre’s original technology.

The playhouse’s first production has done much to explore and develop this new language.

Really saying something

Whereas in most indoor theatres the start of the performance is heralded by extinguishing the house lights, in the Sam Wanamaker the same transition point is marked by the lighting of the candelabras.

The candelabras were lit at chest height, after which they were hoisted to their standard position a few feet above the heads of the actors.

Far from a perfunctory piece of stage management, the lighting and positioning of the candelabras became a ceremony in which the playhouse’s signature element was introduced, reminiscent of a flag raising.

The shutters were kept open for 1.1, which together with the candelabras and sconces created a comparatively light airy feeling for the party scene. There was a process of adjustment to the playhouse’s varying light levels, and this first scene, although darker than it would have been in a bulb-lit theatre, came to feel brighter in comparison with others.

The Duchess (Gemma Arterton) and the Cardinal (James Garnon) were first glimpsed seated at a table in the discovery space behind the frons scenae, while other characters ate strawberries from a dish placed on a table centre stage.

But then the mood changed. As the Duchess was rounded on by her brothers (1.2.207), this psychological encroachment was mirrored by the progressive closure of the shutters, starting on the stage left side of the playhouse and gradually moving round to the other side. This not only darkened the stage: the visible movement of the shutters and the repeated noise as each one was shut fast, created an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere.

It was also noticeable that at this point in the play the language began to contain references to darkness that underpinned the lighting change. Ferdinand (David Dawson) referred to the Duchess’s “darkest actions” immediately followed by the Cardinal telling her she might marry “under the eaves of night”.

The darkness remained for the following sequence between the Duchess and Antonio. But the romantic nature of the action meant that the low lighting now lent intimacy to the spectacle of the Duchess hinting at her love for her steward.

Two candelabras either side downstage were lowered to chest height and the Duchess stood by a sconce and backlit herself ready for Antonio’s (Alex Waldmann) entry. A handheld candelabra was placed on the desk.

As the Duchess’s hints to Antonio became more blatant, at around 1.2.290 (“In heaven”), Antonio took the handheld and held it close to the Duchess’ face, illuminating her and also at a symbolic level signalling his passion for her.

Holding the light to her was a very physical gesture indicating his desire to see more of her and casting her in bright light was symbolic of his assessment of her worth. Up to this point she had effectively been making all the running in wooing him: his action here marked the point at which she became the passive one as he behaved assertively towards her.

The space is intimate, and so is the effect of lighting actors close up with handhelds. The way one actor can shed light on another has a completely different effect to that created by a lighting director throwing switches in a control room to turn on, dim and extinguish bulbs.

Handhelds act like close-up spotlighting, focusing attention on facial expression.

Characters lighting others is also about physical gesture, proximity and movement as well as lighting. The gesture entails entry into personal space and speaks of intimacy either benevolent or malevolent.

Once the Duchess had placed her ring on Antonio’s finger and the bond of their love had been sealed, at around 1.2.362 (“Sir, be confident”) they both stood on opposite sides of a lowered candelabra which illuminated the two of them very powerfully. The candelabra here was a hot and brilliant light source that symbolically represented the heat of their nascent love.

They both knelt downstage for the handfasting ceremony, each holding one of Cariola’s (Sarah MacRae) hands, and with a handheld placed on the stage in front of them to provide intimate uplighting.

If the giving of light can indicate the ignition of love, then the extinguishing of light can herald the onset of darkness in its widest sense.

After Bosola (Sean Gilder) had discovered that the Duchess was pregnant in 2.1, he began scene 2.2 by touring the stage edge to blow out the sconce candles as he explained his scheme. His extinguishing of the lights in readiness for the darker scene ahead symbolised his influence over events. An association was created between encroaching darkness and impending evil.

The darkness also had a practical purpose, as the sequence in which the household staff were assembled to be told of the bogus burglary took place late at night and the stage was now adequately dim to simulate these conditions.

In at least one of the performances, at scene 2.3 Antonio and Bosola confronted each other and argued in the semidarkness of the palace brandishing handhelds in each other’s faces.

The characters stood close together each extending a handheld in their right hand so that it lit the other’s face at close range. This mutual invasion of personal space indicated their aggression. Their proximity coupled with the position of their outstretched arms was reminiscent of the striking of blows and subliminally suggested conflict.

On a severely practical note, the semidarkness of the stage made it entirely credible that Antonio might drop the astrological chart he had drawn up for the newborn baby and leave it behind for Bosola to pick up.

One of the highlights of the production was David Dawson’s moody Ferdinand, whose unhinged personality was heralded by a stray lock of hair that flopped over his face as a visual reminder of his damaged psyche.

By scene 2.5 the Aragon brothers had discovered their sister’s fatal secret. Ferdinand shook his stray lock of hair and shouted angrily while his cooler Cardinal brother tried to calm him down.

Two things became apparent during this exchange: firstly that the small playhouse auditorium amplified loud shouting voices so that their full force could be felt physically. Vocal emotional extremes had more impact.

Secondly, and most interestingly from the lighting perspective, the powerful exhalation of air by a vocal character in proximity to a handheld candelabra risked blowing candles out.

And at one performance, as Ferdinand crouched on the ground and vented his spleen, he accidentally blew out one of his candles. At a symbolic level, the accidental extinguishing of candles demonstrated the unpredictable nature of events, and also hinted at the instability and excess of the characters in question.

Later in 3.1 mad Ferdinand was handed a key to the Duchess’s chamber by Bosola. He leant forward to shake Bosola’s hand and his manic face was spotlit momentarily by Bosola’s handheld sconce, whose reflective back focused the light from its two candles to give Ferdinand’s face sinister uplighting at the very instant he acquired the means of surprising his sister. It was noteworthy that he was made to look manic and evil when performing a gesture usually associated with sociability.

The happy couple sang Monteverdi’s Zefiro Torna as a scene of domestic bliss unfolded at the beginning of 3.2. But when the Duchess was left alone, Ferdinand sneaked in on her, and overheard her talking to her unseen husband about the prospect of having more children. After the Duchess had spied him in a handheld mirror, Ferdinand confronted her with her now open secret.

Handheld candelabras were placed on the stage front as Ferdinand sat on the ground and rocked back and forth like a disturbed child. Movingly, the Duchess, who crouched beside, actually seemed to pity him.

The interval came just after the Duchess and her fugitive family were captured by Bosola. During the interval the lighting was transformed.

Into darkness

The second half began with the sconces above the pit extinguished. Because of their location they were not relit at any point. The stage candles were all doused apart from two sconces and the shutters were closed.

This formed the gloomy setting for Ferdinand and Bosola’s discussion of the Duchess’s imprisonment. Bosola prepared the Duchess to meet her brother in complete darkness and when she bid Bosola “Take hence the lights” he removed the remaining two sconces so that the playhouse was plunged into total darkness.

This meant that the only clues to what was happening came from the Duchess’s comment on the coldness of the proffered hand and the clunk of her dropping what she took to be dead Antonio’s hand. The Duchess called for lights, which Bosola supplied, casting a dim light on the wax hand abandoned on the floor.

Bosola showed the Duchess the wax model of the dead Antonio and her children, which was brought forward through the discovery space with a large number of short candles at its base casting an eerie uplight on the contorted figures that the Duchess took to be her dead family.

This was the Duchess’s lowest point of despair. But in the deepest darkness there came a glimmer of hope, again with candles providing the symbolism.

The Duchess and Cariola sang as they relit the candelabra candles at the start of 4.2. The candelabras were then hoisted into the air, sparking memories of the performance’s ceremonial beginning and the rush of excitement that had provoked.

This relighting symbolised the fortitude and hope of the Duchess and Cariola. It also showed them in control of their environment in a way that ran counter to their imprisonment. So when further troubles came their way soon afterwards, it was against the backdrop of this moment, which made the Duchess’s resilience the more credible.

The parade of madmen sent to her by Ferdinand performed a silly slow dance to tune of Cuckoo’s Nest before being chained up again and escorted away.

This levity was soon replaced by the grim Bosola, now disguised in a hooded cloak and facemask, his deep voice bluntly informing her “I am come to make thy tomb”. Executioners carried in a black coffin with candles on its four corners.

Her simple bold statement “I am Duchess of Malfi still” was reinforced by the lighting design throughout the entire period that she faced her impending death at Bosola’s hands.

She stared at the coffin fatefully, illuminated by the general candlelight but most importantly by her own handheld.

As she moved slowly and deliberately, the handheld spotlit her face and illuminated the dignity of its calm expression. Attention was drawn to her quietness and thoughtfulness, again highlighting her inner state of mind.

This created a very powerful and moving effect, equivalent to a cinematic close up. The fact that she was effectively lighting herself symbolised her reliance on her own inner resources as her only source of comfort.

The Duchess, her children and Cariola were all strangled. Ferdinand’s regret at his sister’s death prompted his “lycanthropia”. As Ferdinand flitted around in his madness, he approached a man in a Lords Box and exclaimed to him “I confess nothing” lighting both their faces with a handheld. This showed the potential for audience inclusion in the action, and therefore also in the lighting scheme.

The shutters were opened to suggest a daylight outdoors scene at the ruined abbey (5.3). Antonio and Delio (Paul Rider) entered through the pit, and once on the stage, Antonio opened a small trap door in the stage under which there was a small quantity of soil.

The Duchess spoke as Echo and was heard at various places in the outer corridors. She was then seen briefly at the back of the upper gallery. This glimpse, which is referenced in the text, was made possible by the bright general lighting.

The playhouse’s lighting came into its own in the final scenes of the production that involve multiple murders in dark interiors.

The chandeliers were hoisted to their highest position to minimise the light level but make the action dimly visible (5.4). Bosola overheard the Cardinal plotting his death, but in the gloom he instead killed Antonio, the man whom he had intended to save. The reduced lighting made this kind of error entirely credible.

The Cardinal read a book by the light of a handheld and tipped the candelabra forward at an extreme angle so that wax dripped on to the floor (5.5). This was an isolated example of a lighting prop being used for something other than a pure lighting effect. The angle of the candelabra and its dripping wax served to highlight the Cardinal’s distracted state of mind – he was so consumed by his thoughts that he did not notice the stream of liquid issuing from his reading lamp.

The play came to a bloody conclusion with its stabbings and deaths. Ferdinand’s dying moments were caught by a handheld placed on the ground whose light accentuated his pained expression.


The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a complementary research project to The Globe. Candlelight is its keynote feature and main selling point. The use of lighting has already been established as a central concern in this grand experiment.

The first production has shown that the Playhouse can facilitate an incredibly sophisticated lighting design and has also demonstrated that candlelight can be used to create meaning in ways that are, to us at least, new and unfamiliar.

Four candles

Thomas Hiddlestonus Donmaranus

Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse, 27 December 2013

A bare brick wall bore traces of previously erased graffiti. Plastic chairs stood in a line at its base and a ladder rose from just right of centre stage up into the flies. The stage itself was bare apart from a gully into which debris was occasionally swept.

At the start of the performance most of the cast went to sit on their chairs while Young Martius (Rudi Goodman) painted a large red square onto the stage floor guided by beams of light that showed him where to colour (1.1). This square represented a generic room that was employed in several sequences and whose outline was lit again when in use. A gap was left on the stage left side of the room through which characters entered and exited.

The text was severely cut so that the running time was 2h30m with a 15m interval. The first half lasted 90 minutes and the second well under an hour.

Two citizens (Mark Stanley and Dwane Walcott) painted the huge words ANNONA (grain) and PLEBIS (the people) on to the wall. Other slogans were projected onto it. The 1st Citizen’s (Rochenda Sandall) opening words “Before we proceed any further” became a reference to the graffitiing. She was the most aggressive and confrontational of the three and carried a small hand axe which she intermittently gestured with as if ready to use, which contrasted with the other’s more passive, artistic resistance.

Menenius (Mark Gatiss) rose and came forward when he was mentioned. His reference to “bats and clubs” was a mild euphemism for the hand axe carried by the 1st Citizen.

His costume, like that of the rest of the cast, was halfway between Roman and modern. He wore a long, slightly shabby coat which made him look more like a poet than a patrician. This suited his florid style of speech. He spoke quietly but confidently about the munificence of the patricians in his “pretty tale”, the belly metaphor.

The patrician flipped up his waistcoat to show his shirt to “make the belly smile”. He made fun of the 2nd Citizen with his great toe joke, pointing at his own outstretched toe on the punch line “thou goest foremost”.

Menenius’ extended explanation was cut short by Martius (Tom Hiddleston) bursting in. After a brief “Thanks” he began his verbal assault on the citizens. This was the action of a messenger and not a man in command. Despite seizing a length of pipe from one of them, it appeared that he had rushed to appear at their bidding rather than confronting them from the security of his own position. He became a supplicant to them.

The first impression of Hiddleston’s Coriolanus was that he was simply an angry young man. This was possibly age-appropriate for the historical character, but held little more appeal.

The tribunes, sat on the stage left end chairs, stood when their “grant” was mentioned. The extent to which Coriolanus disapproved of them would become apparent later.

News came of the Volscian invasion and Aufidius (Hadley Fraser) rose from his chair allowing us to identify the man whom Coriolanus described as the “lion” he was “proud to hunt”. Coriolanus jokingly accused Titus Lartius (Alfred Enoch) of being stiff, upon which they slapped each other playfully.

Sicinia (Helen Schlesinger) and Brutus (Elliot Levy) stood up from their chairs in spotlight and complained about Martius’ pride. Their conspiratorial talk in a corner highlighted their relative weakness and outsider status within Roman politics.

The Volscians had Yorkshire accents, which served to distinguish them from the southern English Romans, but this demarcation was not strictly necessary (1.2). The Volscian senate was indicated by the presence of a simple lectern, from which they spoke to the audience as if addressing the assembly, with a hint that it held the microphone through which it was necessary to speak.

The letter informing them that the Roman army was on its way proved that they were being spied on. Aufidius was as unconvincing a warrior as Martius. The Volscians decided to proceed with their attack, instructing Aufidius to return to Corioli if the Romans laid siege to it.

Young Martius played with his sword as Volumnia (Deborah Findlay) and Virgilia (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) brought forward two chairs on which they sat to sew a large flag (1.3). This was war work, not dainty domestic sewing, and hinted at Volumnia’s martial enthusiasm for her son’s career.

Virgilia suppressed tears that showed she was upset at husband’s absence. Her sniffling became the reason that Volumnia asked her to be “in a more comfortable sort”. The Gentlewoman (Rochenda Sandall again) announced the arrival of Valeria (Jacqueline Boatswain). Virglia wanted to leave but Volumnia insisted that she stay and rose to act out Martius stamping on his enemies: an excellent portrayal of her fervour and pride. Virgilia’s horror at Volumnia’s description of bloodshed was developed further to show by her unspoken reactions how uncomfortable she was within this militaristic family.

They sat and sewed again. Valeria was shown in. She, like the Gentlewoman, observed the doorway in the painted, lit wall of the room. As she approached Virgilia to comment on the sewing, Virgilia turned her face away to hide that she had recently been crying, with the implication that the intensity and duration of her crying had made it impossible to conceal.

She concentrated on her sewing, but looked up in horror as Valeria described how she had seen Young Martius play with and then tear up a butterfly. She was dumbstruck at this cruelty, but such was her submission to this martial environment that her objection came only in her curt remark “A crack, madam”.

Virgilia shot up and paid attention when she heard that Valeria had news of her husband. Virgilia would not go with Valeria but shouted after her as she left the room by its ‘door’.

The stage was cleared and chairs were dragged forward to make a trench in which the Roman army crouched low on the ground, facing the back wall representing Corioli (1.4).

The text was cut so that the scene began with Martius getting the army ready, exhorting “Now put your shields before your hearts and fight”. They charged forward and up rungs on the wall which had ladders projected on to it. Martius ascended the real ladder. Earth came tumbling down as well as fireworks.

The Romans fell back, climbing down the short distance they had ascended the wall. Martius also descended to castigate them before returning to his ladder. Continuing upwards, he disappeared into the flies, marking his entry into Corioli.

Martius then re-entered covered in blood.

The sequence at the start of 1.5 with the looters was cut so that the action became continuous. Martius rallied his men, dismissing his injuries by proclaiming that the “drop of blood is rather physical”.

Cominius (Peter De Jersey) greeted Martius, who wished to be sent against Aufidius (1.6). This agreed, Martius encouraged the troops drawing attention to “this painting”: the blood covering him. He rapped his sword hilt on the ground, a gesture the others copied as they became enthused by his rhetoric. He raised his sword above his head at “O, me alone! Make you a sword of me?” which he spoke quietly as a kind of invocation or prayer

The brief scene 1.7 was cut, leading straight into confrontation between Aufidius and Martius in 1.8. The pair ran at each other and touched swords together first before Martius declared “I’ll fight with none but thee.” They took up positions and then fought, both eventually losing their swords, punching and grappling until Martius got the advantage. He squatted over the prone Aufidius with his hand round his throat choking him and seemed to be relishing the process.

When it looked as if Aufidius was about to die, one his men rushed to Martius’s side and put a sword at his neck. Three others came forward alternately from either side so that eventually a Roman threatened a Volscian, who threatened the Roman who threatened Aufidius’ backer. In this standoff, Aufidius escaped but not without castigating his men for their “condemned seconds”. Martius offered Aufidius his sword back, but then withdrew it and kept the weapon as a prize from the encounter.

Martius appeared after the battle with his arm in a sling as the soldiers chanted “Martius” (1.9). He stood on a chair at one end of a straggle of chairs, while Cominius climbed onto another chair some distance away to praise his deeds and offer him a garland. As he was being proclaimed “Coriolanus”, he moved to a line of four chairs, three of which were then removed to leave him standing alone as the army chanted his new name.

Later, as he crouched near the ground to rest, he forgot the name of man he wanted to have saved.

At the end of the sequence, he took his shirt off, a painful process because of the wounds underneath, and showered in stream of water, which exacerbated the pain. He was injured on his shoulder and left arm as described later by Volumnia. Once over the initial shock he washed his hair and shook it sending out sprays of blood. As he did so, the sound of swords being sharpened played subtly over the top.

The blood was washed away into a gully by a sweeper.

Aufidius complained bitterly about the Volscian defeat, the imposed treaty, and his desire to beat Martius. One puddle of Coriolanus’ bloody water remained in which Aufidius bathed his hands when saying he wanted to “wash my fierce hand in’s heart”. When he was finished with it, he gestured at the sweeper to continue cleaning.

Menenius sat some distance away from the two tribunes who were centre stage seated next to each other (2.1). They fell into conversation about Martius and Menenius was quietly disparaging of them. They accused Martius of pride but he wished they could “turn your eyes towards the nape of your necks” to see their own pride. He became increasingly angry at them, criticising their ambition.

The three women entered, brandishing their letters telling of Martius’ return and shared the glad news with Menenius who embraced them.

But further tension was seen between Volumnia and Virgilia. Menenius pointed out that Martius was “wont to come home wounded”, at which Virgilia repeatedly cried “no”, while Volumnia insisted that her son was indeed wounded and thanked the gods for it. Virgilia cast Volumnia a look of shocked disgust that she should wish Martius to be injured. This once again showed the contrast in their values and how Virgilia did not fit in.

Volumnia and Menenius’ discussion of the history of Martius’ injuries, during which he joyously completed her sentences, was interrupted by the sound of Martius’ triumphant approach. Volumnia stood centre stage to pronounce the ominous “doth lie… men die” as rose petals fell from the flies.

Coriolanus entered in his garland to great acclaim. He was formally welcomed and faced the audience until Cominius pointed out “Look, sir, your mother” at which he turned embarrassed to find Volumnia behind him.

She congratulated him and with her final words “But O, thy wife” disparagingly introduced Virgilia who hugged her husband as he remarked on her crying. This textual reference to her crying linked back to her first tearful appearance.

They set off for the Capitol, leaving Brutus and Sicinia sitting in spotlight at the side. They were worried about losing power if Coriolanus became consul, but took comfort that his arrogance towards the people might prove his undoing. They left for Capitol as well.


The initial sequence with the officers at the start of 2.2 was cut, so the action continued with the senators. The chairs were rearranged and brought forward. They sat in a line behind the central lectern with Coriolanus standing between them. The tribunes were on chairs at the end of the line again.

The 1st Senator’s slightly condescending acknowledgement of the “Masters o’th’ people” produced two responses: Coriolanus, who disapproved of their influence, snapped his fingers and gestured at them to sit down as they rose to speak from the lectern; the tribunes in turn were curt and sarcastic, expressing their muted animosity towards Martius’ promotion.

The fact that the tribunes advanced to the lectern, speaking from which became a marker of authority, provided an initial point of physical conflict between them and Martius that would later become more pronounced.

Coriolanus went to the back and walked up and down behind the line of chairs while he was lauded. During Cominius’ long paean, the others, especially Titus Lartius, slapped their papers in approval, whereas the tribunes were notable by their withdrawn silence. Sicinia looked down at her pad and made furious notes as she was in the habit of doing during these proceedings.

Coriolanus was called back in. The Officer’s line “He doth appear” was given to Brutus as a sarcastic aside. He was offered the consulship if he would speak to the people in the market. The gown of humility was shown to him from the stage right walkway. But he did not want to go through with the ceremony.

Tribunes were again left behind to complain.

The citizens gathered in the market place and were handed red ballots by the tribunes which the people would offer as their “voices” (2.3).

Coriolanus entered in his gown. He begged their voices but in a way that involved gesturing at them, snapping his fingers and snatching the red papers from their hands, all of which was consistent with someone who considered himself there because of “mine own desert”.

He became sarcastic and mocked his own servility, the comedy of which prompted some tittering in the audience.

To mark his general acceptance by the populace he walked along the long line of the cast seated at the back, taking red ballots from their hands. He handed the pile of papers to the tribunes at the end of the line, who then rose.

Menenius was satisfied that he had completed the task and Coriolanus left for the Senate.

Brutus and Sicinia got to work convincing the people to change their minds. Once they believed they had been duped, they retrieved their ballots from the box and began tearing them up.

Coriolanus, Titus Lartius and Cominius were discussing the uneasy standoff between Rome and Antium (3.1).

Into the middle of this burst the tribunes and emptied a box of torn, rejected ballots over him. Coriolanus was insulted and held a handful of shredded papers to ask “Have I had children’s voices?”

The argument with the tribunes continued once they had returned to their seats. Sicinia looked up into the galleries to predict portentously that “It is a mind that shall remain a poison where it is, not poison any further”. Coriolanus became quietly furious at “her absolute shall”.

He continued to berate Sicinia, walking behind her as she cast her eyes downward and scribbled yet more furious notes.

Coriolanus justified his position and the absolute authority of the patricians, mocking the common people’s opinion by imitating their accent. He derided the “double worship” of allowing the tribunes authority so that “nothing is done to purpose”.

Brutus came to the lectern and accused him of treason. This produced a physical confrontation between him and Coriolanus in which they scuffled after which Coriolanus stood aside gesturing at Brutus to come and have a go if he was hard enough.

In the commotion Sicinia told the people that they risked losing their liberties, insisting “What is the city but the people?” She became more determined, calling for Coriolanus to be pushed from the Tarpeian rock.

Coriolanus now totally lost his temper, kicked over the lectern and drew his sword at them. They took shelter, with Brutus scaling the first few rungs of the ladder, shielding behind it to point accusingly at Coriolanus before describing him (using Sicinius’ lines) as “this viper that would depopulate the city, and be every man himself”.

Menenius tried to assuage the tribunes and citizens, describing Coriolanus as a diseased limb to be cured not cut off, and said he would bring him to the market place again.

Set within the confines of the red box room, Coriolanus’ first words “I muse my mother…” were spoken to Virgilia as she kissed him. She then departed to stand outside as Volumnia tried to convince her son to play politics (3.2).

Virgilia paced up and down outside listening and fretting. She looked astounded when Volumnia claimed “I am in this your wife…”. Virgilia returned later to kiss him again.

Her exclusion from this conversation underscored her irrelevance and outsider status. It also added to the claustrophobic atmosphere as Volumnia, Menenius and Cominius crowded within the small space of the room with Coriolanus. But it made her more present as a character and allowed us to see her reaction to words that normally she would not overhear.

At the end, when he had agreed to return to the market, Coriolanus spoke sarcastically about doing things “mildly”, repeating the word in mockery. To be on the safe side, Cominius took Coriolanus’ sword from him to prevent a repeat of his previous aggression.

Brutus painted a small black square on the stage to mark out the spot in the market place on which Coriolanus was to be confined during his contrite reappearance (3.3). Brutus and Sicinia were so happy that their plan had worked so far that they embraced and kissed as they finalised their scheme to secure Coriolanus’ downfall by stoking his anger.

Coriolanus returned, stepped inside the black box and was challenged by the tribunes. He became enraged by their accusation of treachery.

Menenius and Cominius observed the unfolding situation with keen interest, leaning in to whisper comments to each other and then occasionally calling on Coriolanus to show moderation. The staging emphasised that their individual contributions were the product of their collusion.

Citizens stood on both walkways calling for him to be sent to the rock. Coriolanus seized on Brutus’ mention of word “service”, infuriated at its use by an upstart civilian.

Whipped up by Sicinia, the people demanded Coriolanus’ execution, crying “It shall be so”. The cacophony was accompanied by multiple projections of the word “traitor” and the phrase “it shall be so” being sequentially added to the back wall.

Coriolanus lashed out at the “common cry of curs” telling them “I banish you”, throwing his garland back at them. He was spotlit centre stage to pronounce “There is a world elsewhere” shadowed by Volumnia, who sat behind him, cried and then came forward for 4.1.

Coriolanus bade farewell to his family by first commiserating with a very distraught Volumnia who had come forward at the end of 3.3 (4.1). Cominius returned the sword he had previously confiscated from Coriolanus, in a gesture of comradely solidarity with his fellow soldier.

The first half ended as Coriolanus returned centre stage to be pelted with rotten tomatoes by citizens shouting “It shall be so!”

At the start of the second half, a shadowy figure in ragged clothes huddled by the back wall as the tribunes met with Volumnia and Virgilia. The women were furious with them. Volumnia was haughty and disdainful, but was met with confident sarcasm from Sicinia, while Virgilia ran at them in fury (4.2).

Volumnia shoved away Menenius’ comforting hand as he invited her to dinner, insisting bitterly “anger’s my meat: I sup upon myself”. She composed herself and addressed Virgilia, telling her to “leave this faint puling”. She adjusted Virgilia’s hair and smartened her up, but only as an aid to stiffening her resolve.

By encouraging her daughter-in-law to be “Juno-like”, Volumnia was drawing comfort from the prospect of making Virgilia more like her. This change from her earlier disdain for Virgilia marked the beginning of a deeper reconciliation that would culminate in their mutual support in their final scene.

Scene 4.3 was cut. Coriolanus disguised in his rags, slumped at the back of the stage, rose up and asked the way to Aufidius’ house (4.4). He tried to gain entry but was turned back by one of the female servants (Rochenda Sandall again) who stood toe-to-toe and comically nose-to-nose with Coriolanus in an attempt to intimidate him into leaving (4.5). He brushed her aside contemptuously, telling her to “batten on cold bits”.

Aufidius caught up with him and Coriolanus initially turned away, unsure as to whether to reveal himself. But he turned to face Aufidius and took off his hood. Aufidius still did not recognise him and asked his name several times.

Coriolanus spoke his name, causing the other Volscians to start with fear at being in the presence of their arch enemy. During Coriolanus’ long explanation of how he had arrived there, one of Aufidius’ men slowly drew his dagger and crept up very slowly behind Coriolanus. A further note of tension was introduced as Coriolanus took a step backwards, forcing the stealthy killer to retreat as well, with the ever-present possibility that he might be detected. Coriolanus sank to his knees and the killer positioned his blade just above Coriolanus’ back. He fixed Aufidius with his gaze, indicating that he had only to give the word and the blade would be thrust between his foe’s shoulder blades.

Coriolanus offered up his throat for him to cut. Aufidius moved behind the kneeling Coriolanus and took the blade from his comrade and held it near to Coriolanus’ throat.

Aufidius paused for a while before exclaiming “O Martius, Martius” and declared his friendship. But Coriolanus was still nervously anticipating the fatal blow so that when Aufidius briskly made a sudden cutting movement without making actual contact, Coriolanus momentarily mistook this for the coup de grace and collapsed forward in panic. He recovered once he felt that his throat was still intact.

Aufidius knelt down in front of Coriolanus, held him in his arms and then kissed him on the lips. But he immediately stood up and with slight abashment explained “Know thou first, I loved the maid I married” to audience titters. This mirth was reignited when Aufidius grasped him once more, this time standing up, and spoke of how he had “nightly since dreamt of encounters” between them.

Aufidius offered him joint leadership and some Volscian armour was given to him. The comedy serving men sequence was cut, but humour was introduced at the end of the scene. Once the main players had exited, the other Volscians looked at each other in open-mouthed amazement at Aufidius’ unexpected embracement of his former enemy.


Back in Rome, Sicinia and Brutus were very happy. The couple sat close together, Brutus with his arm round Sicinia’s shoulder, as they exuded smug self-congratulation at getting Coriolanus banished (4.6).

Confident that they now had the upper hand, they took no heed of Menenius’ upset at Coriolanus’ departure. Some citizens passed by and thanked the tribunes, presenting them with a bowl of grapes.

However, their calm was short-lived. A messenger (not identified as an Aedile) brought news of a report of a Volscian invasion. The tribunes wanted the “rumourer” whipped, but Menenius realised that the rumour was probably true.

Another messenger reported that Coriolanus had joined with Aufidius. The tribunes dismissed this as yet more idle talk and Menenius agreed that this was “unlikely”. But a second messenger called him to the Senate, confirming the truth of it.

Cominius stormed in and joined with Menenius in castigating the static seated tribunes, whose fixed position highlighted their fear and indecision. They were surrounded, with a military man on one side and an intellectual on the other. Criticism from these divergent types brought out the totality of the opposition to them.

The citizens were now abashed and denied that they had ever meant to banish Coriolanus. Others were fearful of how to placate him. The Tribunes could only tell them not to be afraid, but once they were left alone, Brutus’ remark “I do not like this news” as he sat still holding the grapes, drew laughter from audience for its comical redundancy.

Aufidius and his Lieutenant sat and mithered about Coriolanus’ increasing popularity (4.7). Speaking of how fire drives out fire and one nail another, he vowed menacingly that “When, Caius, Rome is thine, Thou art poor’st of all; then shortly art thou mine”.

Cominius returned from his failed meeting with Coriolanus and kicked over a chair before crouching disconsolate at the back of the stage (5.1). The position and posture he adopted were eerily similar to that Coriolanus had been in when lurking on stage at the start of the second half.

Menenius initially refused to petition Coriolanus because the general had met with failure. But Sicinia’s pleading, together with his own conviction that Coriolanus would be more malleable after dinner, persuaded him to try.

Cominius described how Coriolanus “does sit in gold, his eye red as ‘twould burn Rome” while Coriolanus went to his chair.

Menenius arrived at the Volscian camp and was intercepted by two guards (5.2). His high-handed “do you know who I am?” approach resulted in rebuff.

Coriolanus and Aufidius, overhearing the commotion, came to see what was happening. Menenius proudly and disdainfully promised the “jack guardant” that he was in trouble for keeping him out.

Menenius appeared to let slip a great secret. His phrasing of “my son Coriolanus” cut short the word “son” before continuing with “Coriolanus” as if inadvertently hinting at his paternity.

He approached Coriolanus and knelt to weep tears onto his gloved hand. He asked pardon for Rome, requesting that after making peace any remnant of Coriolanus’ anger be directed at the “varlet” who had “denied my access to thee”.

Without saying anything, Coriolanus wagged his finger disapprovingly at the guard, giving Menenius the impression that he was about to fulfil his wish. The wagging continued and became more mocking until Coriolanus laughed, making plain that his gesture was entirely playful. He turned brusquely to Menenius and very softly ordered him “Away”.

Coriolanus vowed that he was a stranger even to his family and that he had only compassion for the Volscians. He gave Menenius a letter which the despondent man briefly read and then dropped to the ground on exiting. The guards made fun of Menenius for having predicted they would get into trouble.

His ominous “He that hath a will to die by himself fears it not from another” became a real premonition of his suicide, because after his exit from this scene the cuts to the remainder of text meant he was never seen again. This was reminiscent of the character’s absence from the final Roman scenes in the Ralph Fiennes film.

Coriolanus picked up the discarded letter and passed it to Aufidius, demonstrating that there were no secrets between them. With continuous action, Coriolanus and Aufidius discussed laying siege to Rome the next day (5.3). Coriolanus ironically vowed that he would not listen to any more suits from “state nor private friends”.

The women processed onstage: first Virgilia, then Volumnia holding Young Martius’ hand and finally Valeria. They walked along stage front and then round behind to stand upstage right. Coriolanus watched and commented.

Virgilia slowly curtsied before his empty chair with a fixed beatific smile on her face, which indicated that somehow Coriolanus was speaking to us from outside the reality of their arrival and we were seeing the event through his shocked eyes. Volumnia and Young Martius bowed their heads.

Coriolanus returned to sit in his chair centre stage at which point he entered into the field of Virgilia’s gaze. She came alive, the staged version of the sequence now reflecting reality as Virgilia addressed him as “My lord and husband”. She sat on his lap, brushing away his protestation that “These eyes are not the same I wore in Rome”, and kissed him.

As she continued to sit in his lap, her right hand ventured down to his crotch at which point Coriolanus seemed to sense that he might give in to her. He rose briskly, brushing Virgilia aside and spoke to his mother, going down on one knee.

Volumnia bid him stand and then abased herself fully with her head to the ground and her arms outstretched. The disparity between the two gestures exemplified Volumnia’s greater desperation.

She asked if Coriolanus knew Valeria. He visibly scrambled around in his memory to draw up her potted biography, which he then quoted to signify his recognition. His son was also presented to him and he bowed a knee to his father.

Volumnia pressed on with their request, despite admitting that he would not grant them anything. She explained their predicament, concluding that her son would tread on her womb. Virgilia agreed, coming to stand in front of him, saying “Ay, and mine” showing him Young Martius, with the lad saying he would fight when he was bigger.

Coriolanus made to go but Volumnia stopped him, maintaining that he could win fame and honour by reconciling the Romans and Volscians. She approached him and tried to touch his face saying “Speak to me, son” but he recoiled from her.

He turned his back on her barbed comments, which prompted Volumnia to instruct her party to kneel. They abased themselves face down with their hands outstretched. Volumnia rose hoping to draw Coriolanus’ attention to his entreating son. Still turned away from his family, Coriolanus’ eyes began to water as he listened to her.

Her final barbed comment that “this fellow had a Volscian to his mother, his wife is in Corioles and his child like him by chance” seemed to do the trick.

Without any great pause, Coriolanus simply turned, approached his mother and said “O, mother, mother! What have you done?” But his words were disappointingly flat and expressionless.

This was the dramatic climax of the play, the point at which the oncoming express train of Coriolanus’ force is derailed by his mother’s disapproval. But rather than seeing a great man brought low, Hiddleston seemed too dispassionate, a few leaky tears the only sign of his emotions.

This powerful moment of hushed tension is supposed to herald the cataclysmic breakdown of Coriolanus the colossus war machine. But this version was calm to the point of being featureless, his monotone delivery at odds with the enormity of his change of heart.

However, it was possible that the direction was following the description of Coriolanus at this moment in Peter Holland’s programme note, which pictured him as “no longer angry but strangely calm as he anticipates so clear-sightedly his own death”.

Aufidius remarked laconically that he “was moved withal”. But we knew trouble was coming despite the fact that Aufidius’ menacing aside was cut.

Volumnia looked shocked and astounded at this turn around. Coriolanus congratulated the women on having obtained peace and bade them farewell with kisses and hugs for his family which neatly contrasted with his previous coldness and distance.

The scenes in Rome (5.4/5.5) were cut. The action moved straight to Aufidius’ direct confrontation with Coriolanus with much of the start of 5.6 also cut.

Aufidius began by telling his fellow Volscians to inform “the lords o’the’ city” about events, but suddenly turned on Coriolanus screaming that he was a traitor. He shouted the accusations from around l.20 relating to how he had taken Coriolanus into his trust, and then elaborated how his friend had betrayed that trust by concluding the present peace.

The rapidly-paced sequence picked up from around l.87 with Aufidius’ accusation of treachery, Coriolanus’ retort and Aufidius deliberately addressing him as “Martius”, not using “that robbery, thy stolen name”, all compounded with the insulting epithet “Boy”.

Martius, in line with the highlighting of his death premonition, threw away his sword and invited them to “Cut me to pieces”.

He was beaten to the ground, a chain was attached to his feet and he was hoisted up. Aufidius took a blade and lunged it into Coriolanus’ stomach. He writhed briefly as his blood drained from him.

Aufidius crouched beneath and bathed his head in the flow, saying “hold, hold”. His rage had gone and he promised that Coriolanus would have a noble memory.

Petals fell from the flies as Volumnia came and stood upstage right. Aufidius’ face lit up as he beamed under the shower of Coriolanus’ blood. A child’s voice sang the celebratory words of cut scene 5.5. The lights went out on Aufidius finally fulfilling his wish to wash his “fierce hand in’s heart”.


The fans wanted to give Hiddleston “the whole name of the war” but he was not the most interesting part of the production.

The stiff upper lip understatement in the final scene was either disappointing for anyone expecting passionate emotional fireworks or alternatively could be seen as an intelligent reading emphasising Coriolanus’ fatalism.

Deborah Findlay captured perfectly Volumnia’s combination of ferocity and vulnerability.

Elsewhere, Virgilia was given a greater role through her continuous reactions to events and by her presence at points where does not normally appear. She was made to appear a very unwilling conscript into Coriolanus’ military family.

The casting of Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Virgilia was a clever move. Her Danish accent was a constant reminder of her otherness, a characteristic that mirrored and underscored the production’s emphasis on Virgilia’s outsider status amid the militaristic family into which she had married.

Making one of the tribunes female allowed their collusion to turn into a nascent love affair. These are characters who for all their flaws offer a vague hope of a better democratic future.

This detailing of the minor characters contrasted with the neglect of the minor characters in that other recent star vehicle, the Grandage Henry V.

Fans   Selfie

The Wooden Novell-O

Henry V, Novello Theatre, 6 December 2013

The curved, mud splattered palisade that formed the back of the Henry V set was strikingly similar to the structure used by the recent Globe production of Macbeth.

So when the Chorus (Ashley Zhangazha) emerged and spoke of “this wooden O”, the Novello resounded with a clear echo of Bankside.

Establishing such a connection inside a proscenium arch space was incredibly clever, and typical of other thoughtful touches in the staging.

The Chorus was dressed in jeans and union jack t-shirt. His request that we should use our imaginations and his apology for the “unworthy scaffold” made him seem part of the crew rather than a character within the production. The sound of neighing encouraged us to visualise horses.

He was a modern figure talking to us as our immediate contemporary, which rendered the ensuing action effectively a play within that play.

The Chorus stood aside and watched the opening scene and later played other characters, most notably the Boy.

The palisade centre doors pulled back to reveal King Henry (Jude Law) sitting on a throne reading messages and issuing orders.

The audience had after all paid to see Jude Law and so the production gave them an early glimpse of him, which provided something for people to look at while Ely (Richard Clifford) and Canterbury (Michael Hadley) discussed the Salic Law and Henry’s claim to France (1.1).

The clerics remained onstage as Henry rose from the throne and came forward to speak with them, effectively merging the first two scenes into one sequence (1.2).

Jude Law was very convincing as a king, adopting a powerful wide-legged posture, his hands cutting through the air with strong emphatic gestures.

If the British royal family count as mega-celebrities, then conversely mega-celebrities can been seen as royalty: consequently a celebrity of Jude Law’s standing and acting talent becomes a natural choice to play a stage king, because his own aura of fame elides with that of Henry’s kingship.

The production was built around the star turn and this reflected the way in which the play revolves around its central character. The king’s reign was not an ensemble production and neither was this.

Canterbury’s long genealogy with its semi-comic pay-off “So that, as clear as if the summer’s sun” was cut removing a moment of potential comedy from the start.

But the reference to the “weasel scot” got a laugh when Henry’s nobles were persuading him of the need to lay claim to France and make war preparations including defending against opportunistic Scottish incursion.

Canterbury’s long concluding speech was shortened of its ruminations on social hierarchy so that he merely advocated dividing England into four.

The Ambassador from France (Prasanna Puwanarajah) entered while an attendant carried in a chest. Exeter (James Laurenson) looked inside and saw that the Dauphin had presented a gift of tennis balls.

King Henry’s responded to this slight with measured anger, tipping his crown askew in self-mockery when referring to his previous “barbarous licence”. But he extended his “rightful hand” threateningly towards the Ambassador to make plain his warlike intent.

At once energetic and animated, Henry ordered preparations for the now inevitable war.

Having observed events from upstage, the Chorus came forward and introduced us to the three traitors who skulked at the side, before setting the scene at Southampton (2.0)

The action continued with 2.2, linking the traitors’ first mention with the scene in which their treachery is uncovered.

The plotters stood in a loose group stage right and Henry joined them, ensuring that they overheard his leniency to a drunk who had insulted him.

They were given their arrest warrants instead of their orders, upon which Cambridge (Ian Drysdale) pleaded briefly for mercy and all kneeled hoping for clemency. Henry rebuked them, raising each in turn from their kneeling position to berate them individually.

Exeter arrested them, prompting extended pleading from all three. Henry had gone to stand at far stage left avoiding their sight. But he could still hear their pleas, and his bowed head indicated the pain of his dilemma.

But his resolute response was not long coming. He turned and shouted “God quit you in his mercy!” firmly denying them any hope of mercy.

The guards who had kept their hands poised on their sword hilts now drew their blades to escort the three to execution.

Once the main event had passed there was a feeling that we were passing on to the comedy filler of the lower class soldiers: Nym (Norman Bowman), Bardolph (Jason Baughan) and Pistol (Ron Cook) (2.1). The comic rivalry over the Hostess (Noma Dumezweni) between Nym and Pistol with his rakish hat and swishing sword of “flashing fire”, was very entertaining.

The Chorus took the role of the Boy, still in his jeans and t-shirt and with a modern rucksack and metal water container. His presence in an actual role within the production as opposed to his choric function became intriguing and pleasantly disconcerting. Our contemporary commentator had become part of the story he was telling.

The presence of fleurs-de-lys and French blue indicated the shift of the action to France (2.4). Exeter presented Henry’s “pedigree” in a bound volume. He spoke very quickly all the time, possibly to help shorten the run time.

The French were not jokey caricatures, but the Dauphin (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) was portrayed as the weaker of the group so that Exeter’s slight mispronunciation of the Dauphin’s name provoked the slight heir to respond.

The soldiers said their farewells before leaving for France, whilst also taking time to bid goodbye to the recently deceased Falstaff (2.3). Quickly’s adieu to the men led directly into the Chorus taking us forward on our imaginary journey and back to France.

The Chorus weaved a verbal image of the war preparations (3.0). The mention of the “nimble gunner” touching the “devilish cannon” did not trigger massive explosions but merely a rumble of noise.

The alarum at the start of 3.1 saw the English army forced back from behind the central opening in the palisade stage left amid a cloud of smoke and noise of artillery. The English rallied and made another assault but were similarly repulsed.

These failed attempts were the background to King Henry’s exhortation to them to go “once more unto the breach”.

His general address to them turned into a practical pep talk. He breathed in demonstrating how to “stretch the nostril wide” and the soldiers imitated him. He addressed a “good yeoman” and spoke to rally the spirits of one of the soldiers crouched on the ground.

The army became vocally responsive to his encouragement and grew visibly more confident so that when he described them as “greyhounds in the slips” this was an accurate image of their renewed fighting spirit.

He drew another soldier’s sword and handed it to him and then led a massive charge with the army following him to storm through the breach.


Bardolph, Nym and Pistol accompanied by the Boy were left behind to undercut the brave sentiments of Henry’s rousing oratory (3.2). Fluellen drove them onward leaving the Boy/Chorus to describe their villainy and cowardice.

The character of Jamy was cut leaving Fluellen (Matt Ryan) attempting to discuss the war with Macmorris (Christopher Heyward) until the besieged town of Harfleur sounded a parlay.

The Harfleur governor (Rhys Meredith) was brought in and fell to the ground surrounded by Henry and his eager, angry and newly invigorated army.

As his threats of retribution against the townsfolk if they did not surrender grew more insistent, the army growled their support and edged forward so that the prone figure of the governor was overwhelmed by them.

The Governor rose to report that the Dauphin could not assist them and then invited the English to enter the town. He knelt on the ground for mercy, but Henry, embarrassed at this grovelling, pulled him to his feet, restoring the man’s dignity and going someway to making up for the gory threats he had made against Harfleur’s populace.

Kate’s (Jessie Buckley) French lesson was not played excessively for comedy and she was rather restrained when repeating the English version of the list of body parts (3.4). The mispronunciations of foot and gown produced the strongest swearwords: the French “foutre” and the English “countt”. Rather than letting “coun” sound like the French “con” a t was added to the end to make it sound like an English swear word, which obviously would not have been offensive to the French.

This was possibly designed to make plainer the offensive nature of at least one of her pronunciation errors.

In a very interesting move, these French-speaking French were then met and greeted by the king (Richard Clifford again), who embraced his daughter, and his nobles, who proceeded in their subsequent scene to speak in English. Having these two mutually exclusive worlds impossibly on stage at the same time strongly underscored the language switch, which can otherwise pass unnoticed.

The French were worried by the English advance but nevertheless Montjoy was sent to demand Henry’s ransom (3.5).

We returned to the battlefield and the rumble of war with Gower, Fluellen and Pistol (3.6). We learnt from Pistol that Bardolph was to be hanged for theft. Fluellen supported this punishment which prompted the comedy of Pistol giving him the fig and storming off.

Henry asked Fluellen about their losses and also heard about Bardolph. He knelt downstage with his face uplit. He paused and wished “all such offenders so cut off” with no flicker of remorse. Anyone unfamiliar with the backstory from Henry IV 1&2 might not have remarked on this being personally painful for him.

Montjoy demanded that Henry ransom himself. The king bravely rebuked him, but stood alone at the end facing the audience to give them a long meaningful look before the lights went up for the interval.

The Chorus came onstage before the start of the second half and lay on his back reading an edition of Henry V, then stood to tell us about the preparations at Agincourt (4.0).

Night-time at the English camp saw the rear of the set become a starry background, and fires appeared from under several small traps around which troops huddled (4.1).

Henry spoke with Erpingham framed by the starry background. He stared at the soldiers further downstage and seemed inspired by this sight to visit them. He first met the drunk Pistol and had to pass himself off as Welshman Harry le Roy.

Over on stage right, the comedy continued as Gower (Harry Atwell) introduced himself too loudly and Fluellen had to quieten him.

Henry coarsened his accent slightly when he spoke to Williams (Norman Bowman again) and his comrades. He looked troubled by Williams’ description of the mutilated bodies of the war dead and how they would one day rise to accuse their king, so that when he seized on the minor point in Williams’ proposition about his liability for the soldiers’ souls and countered it, this seemed a device to avoid the major point Williams had made, enabling Henry to avoid contemplating the horrors of war and simultaneously position himself as victim.

After taking Williams’ gage, Henry launched into his soliloquy about the injustice of heaping all responsibility onto the monarch’s shoulders, which in the context of the above came across as an avoidance strategy.

After Erpingham’s brief interruption, Henry faced forward to call on the “God of battles” to bolster his troops. He fell to his knees pleading with God not to think on his father’s fault and listed the good works he had done. This could be seen as a crisis in part provoked by Williams and postponed by the king’s prevarication.

The French battle preparations saw them staring out at the audience, indicating their fascination with the distant enemy and suggesting their nervousness (3.7). Their banter about horses became enthused with a similar trepidation. The scene merged into 4.2 in which a messenger informed them the battle was about to commence.

The despondent English advanced in formation through the centre doors and faced the audience (4.3). Westmoreland (Edward Harrison) stated grimly that the French had 60,000 men, which Exeter calculated to be a 5-1 advantage.

They wished each other luck, but Westmoreland hoped to be joined by a fraction of those not working that day in England. Henry appeared behind them and contradicted Westmoreland’s desire for reinforcements.

Henry worked his rhetorical magic once more on the dispirited English, saying that their situation offered either a small loss of life or a great share of honour. As he described the aftermath of victory and the fame of the lauded combatants, the soldiers were again roused by the prospect of success.

Amid murmurs of encouragement, Henry named them in turn prompting yet more enthusiastic responses. And once again he modified his accent to imitate one of his common soldiers bragging “These wounds I had…”

The army was highly energised and ready to go, which made their response to Montjoy’s renewed demand for Henry’s ransom very predictable.

With each staccato phrase of Henry’s severe rebuke, the soldiers chanted and advanced with a stomping gait on the terrified Montjoy.

The feverish enthusiasm of the army was shared by York who, typifying the refreshed vigour of the English, brightly requested “the leading of the vaward”. The mood had now been completely transformed from the despondency of the start of the scene, and the contrast was clearly brought out.

At some point a soldier spat at the mention of ransom, possibly when Henry said he feared Montjoy would return again to ask for it.

The battle began with alarums and excursions as soldiers rushed across the stage (4.4). The comedy of Pistol’s capture of “Signieur Dew” (Jason Baughan again) was given a tricksy edge by the presence of the Boy, still in jeans and rucksack, acting as interpreter. On being offered a ransom of two hundred crowns, Pistol sheathed his sword saying “my fury shall abate”.

The Boy/Chorus then hinted heavily at how lightly the luggage was guarded.

Two brief scenes showed the French rallying after a setback (4.5) and the English during a brief respite in the battle (4.6). With the French challenging them again, Henry ordered the prisoners to be killed.


The Boy was carried away by a French soldier and killed offstage (4.7). This prompted Fluellen’s great line “Kill the poys and the luggage!” The sourness of the incident was then immediately undercut by the comedy routine sparked off by Fluellen referring to Alexander the Pig. This proved to be the laugh out loud moment in the performance.

Henry said that he was angry at the killing of the boys, but if so he was keeping it mostly suppressed. The French messenger Montjoy knelt and offered his sword as a gesture of surrender. Giving thanks for the victory, King Henry knelt as did Fluellen who, full of feeling for his compatriot, reminded Henry of his Welshness. His remark about the water of the Wye not being able to wash the king’s Welsh blood from him was yet more comic undercutting of an otherwise serious moment.

Henry spotted Williams and tricked Fluellen into wearing his glove. He sent Williams away to fetch Gower, but did not send Fluellen after him. Williams simply returned and found Fluellen with the king’s glove stuffed ridiculously under his hat.

After a brief altercation, Henry came forward and revealed to Williams that it was he whom he had struck (5.8). Williams’ contrition earned him a glove full of gold crowns. Fluellen comically followed after him to offer him a shilling to mend his shoes.

After all this laughter the note with the number of dead was delivered. There was a huge discrepancy between number of English and French dead. Henry seemed moved, but his character was too full of confidence and had been too gung-ho in his warlike posturing ever to be upset at enemy deaths.

The Chorus at the start of act five was cut, so we went straight into 5.1 without the long meandering journey via Blackheath.

Fluellen caught up with Pistol and beat him until he ate a leek (5.1). Pistol peeled off some outer layers of the vegetable and threw them away before forced to chow down. But our sympathies returned to Pistol when he told us that Quickly had died.

The English party with Henry at the fore appeared from stage right to meet the French entering the other side. The French were led by their king holding his daughter’s hand as if escorting her to the altar in marriage and thereby offering her as part of the peace treaty (5.2).

Henry’s early mention of her in his opening words underscored how important she was to the settlement.

The role of Queen Isabel was cut, making Katherine the only woman of rank in the encounter. There was no Duke of Burgundy and his part was trimmed and given to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Further discussion about the treaty was needed, so Exeter was sent to negotiate with the King of France. Henry made sure that Katherine, “our capital demand”, was left with him.

Katherine, who appeared to have been treated as a gift in the diplomatic horse trading, unsurprisingly looked cold and nervous as Henry began his overtures to her. She could not or would not understand his entreaties and this produced the comedy of Alice’s (Noma Dumezweni again) consecutive interpretation.

Henry put his crown aside and placed great emphasis on his declaration “I love you”.

The scene then became utterly charming as Henry’s gauche wooing slowly thawed her icy defences, particularly when he tried to speak in broken French, so that eventually one of her broken English put downs was said smilingly as if happy with his attentions.

Henry put his crown back on to emphasise that in taking him, she would “take a king”. The audience laughed at his joke about not being the enemy of France because he loved it so much that he would not part with a village of it.

The king wanted to seal their betrothal with a kiss and the couple knelt. But she was unwilling and explained in French that kissing before marriage was not the custom in her country. Henry was so keen by this stage, that his excuse that “nice customs curtsy to great kings” was wonderfully witty.

They eventually kissed kneeling on the floor, which made their embarrassment the greater when the others returned, prompting Henry’s farcical “Here comes your father”.

This moment of comedy rounded off what had been a perfectly delightful sequence.

The marriage was agreed and the terms settled, but much of the detail of these arrangements was cut.

Queen Isabel’s lines about combining the couple’s two hearts in one were given to Canterbury and made the accompaniment to a form of wedding ceremony with him joining their hands as they looked out at the audience. The ceremonial aspect was enhanced by his phrase “God speak this Amen!” with everyone responding “Amen!”

At this point, the action froze and the Chorus came forward to end the story, still in his jeans and t-shirt, speaking the epilogue on behalf of the author. He pointed out on a depressive note that their son Henry VI’s reign would result in the loss of France and strife in England.

The charm of the wooing sequence and the strong emphasis on marriage at end made the final scene into a powerful, positive statement about love, to the extent that the whole war could be seen as merely the prologue to it.


A celebrity Shakespeare production like this has to prove that its central attraction merits attention. And this was done. The only weak point to the production was that in its attempt to provide a suitable vehicle for Jude Law, the Eastcheap characters were neglected and their world made to feel less important than that of the king.

The best versions of Henry V feel like an ensemble in which Pistol, Bardolph and Nym are as well-detailed, and their fates as significant, as those of their alleged betters.

There was much to praise in the detailing of the king’s royal progress, and in particular the meshing of the Chorus into the story, but the rest felt neglected and this was to the detriment of the whole.



Richard II, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 19 October 2013

A coffin rested on a stand centre stage before a backdrop of a Gothic arched interior, which was projected onto six overlapping beaded curtains, three each side of the upstage area.

Ten minutes before the start the Duchess of Gloucester (Jane Lapotaire) was escorted to the coffin, her widow’s weeds and faltering progress indicating her extremity of grief. She knelt on a stool and draped herself over one end and rested there.

Up in the gallery three women sang as the funeral crowd gathered. Gaunt (Michael Pennington) and York (Oliver Ford Davies) comforted the Duchess of Gloucester before drawing aside.

Richard swept in to adjudicate the dispute between Bolingbroke (Nigel Lindsay) and Mowbray (Antony Byrne) (1.1).

David Tennant’s Richard was a striking visual presence in his long hair and flowing gown, yet the most salient aspect of his character, present from the start and maintained throughout, was his total unlikeability.

He spoke with an affected accent, exuded disdain for those around him far stronger than regal distance, and had a habit of either looking down his nose at people or talking while facing away from them.

Despite the hair and feminine gowns, his cold aggression and strutting created an ever-present atmosphere of menace.

The strange accent was patently not the result of David Tennant’s inability to speak convincing RP; it was nevertheless deliberately contrived to enhance the impression that the king’s regal airs were a front.

Tennant’s Richard exemplified the ideas that are expounded during his downfall: that his self-image is as brittle as a mirror and that in being king he had merely been allowed to play “a little scene, to monarchize”. Right from the start, this Richard was playing a part: an inauthentic character whose fakery was bolstered by his grim determination to preserve his authority.

Richard talked to Gaunt and summoned Bolingbroke and Mowbray. They knelt before him with their backs to the audience. Richard offered a limp hand when saying “Yet one but flatters us”, before reading from a paper handed to him about “the cause you come”.

The guests that had gathered for the wake became increasingly disturbed by the vehemence of the dispute, particularly when Bolingbroke accused Mowbray of being behind Gloucester’s death. At this point many of them, including York and his Duchess, left with huffs of disgust.

At 1.1.107 Richard went to confer with Bushy (Sam Marks), Bagot (Jake Mann) and Green (Marcus Griffiths), his favourites, before returning to remark sarcastically “How high a pitch his resolution soars”.

Something about Mowbray’s denial of his involvement in Gloucester’s death was unconvincing. Saying that he had “neglected my sworn duty in that case” was a vague, evasive statement.

Richard wanted them to make peace: “This we prescribe, though no physician”. He lingered over the four syllables of “physician” as if conscious of its metre. This could have been seen as his awareness of his own theatricality in ‘monarchizing’. When he said “Our doctors say this is no time to bleed” he claque of favourites applauded sycophantically.

Gaunt and Richard tried to get the adversaries to throw down the gages they had both picked up.

Mowbray and Bolingbroke ignored these entreaties. Their enmity reached a high point as they growled at each other nose to nose, causing Richard to pound his warder onto Gloucester’s coffin and exclaim that he was “not born to sue but to command”. This outburst and accompanying loud bang demonstrated that below Richard’s outward serenity there flowed a dark undercurrent of intemperate violence.

Richard ordered them to settle their dispute through trial by combat at Coventry.

The others exited to leave Gaunt alone with the Duchess of Gloucester still leaning over her husband’s coffin (1.2). Jane Lapotaire was excellent as she rose to castigate Gaunt for “suff’ring thus thy brother to be slaughtered”. Her tongue curdled the air as she pronounced the phrases “fell Mowbray” and “butcher Mowbray”.

Then, imagining Mowbray’s defeat at Bolingbroke’s hands, she viciously relished the prospect of this revenge being visited on the “caitiff recreant”.

Her vacillations and faltering memory became in Lapotaire’s performance the painful witnesses of the Duchess’s extreme emotional distress that exacerbated her physical frailty. Her condition in this scene made the subsequent news of her death entirely credible. Her repeated “Desolate, desolate” was particularly powerful.

And with a quaint device a gantry was flown in bearing the throne (1.3). Richard and his party entered the gantry from the sides once it was in position above the stage. He sat on the throne with his queen to his right and his favourites to his left. The projection became brighter to indicate the outdoor location.

Bolingbroke and Mowbray were summoned to fight. They appeared in full armour and had holy water sprinkled on them. Bolingbroke was shorter, squatter and rougher than both Richard and Mowbray. His short hair formed a distinct contrast to Richard’s long plait.

Bolingbroke asked to kiss Richard’s hand. Bagot whispered in Richard’s ear after which, presumably on his favourite’s advice, the king agreed to descend, at which point all the favourites applauded him.

Richard descended the stairway and kissed Bolingbroke on the cheek. Despite Richard’s physical proximity to Bolingbroke, he still radiated emotional coldness.

Bolingbroke addressed “I take my leave of you” to Richard who, now at the end of their exchange, offered his hand for Bolingbroke to kiss and then returned to the gantry, pointedly ignoring Mowbray as he passed him.

Mowbray’s address to Richard was spoken downstage facing the audience. Its cold reception from those onstage and Richard’s cool response indicated the extent to which Mowbray was out of favour.

The combatants were given long swords and began to fight. After some brief skirmishes, Richard dropped his warder casually without drawing attention to himself. As king, he expected his every gesture to be noticed anyway. However, Bolingbroke and Mowbray did not notice and so the Lord Marshall (Simon Thorp) had to intervene to separate them.

Richard descended again and went upstage to confer with his favourites. He called in Gaunt, who would later reference this conference. The Lord Marshall twice ordered the trumpets to sound a flourish in order to fill out the time. But the second time he gestured at them to strike up, Richard immediately returned, forcing the Lord Marshall to signal them to stop and thereby injecting a note of comedy into the proceedings.

Richard exiled Bolingbroke but permanently banished Mowbray, who did not accept this punishment with good grace.

Mowbray objected to his banishment, but Richard simply turned away from him, leaving the duke to address his futile complaint to Richard’s back. In frustration at this snub, at 1.3.171 Mowbray exclaimed “What! Is thy sentence then but speechless death” and grabbed Richard’s hand as he passed.

Richard quickly retracted his hand and The Lord Marshall drew his sword on Mowbray in response to this apparent treason. Richard did not respond to the affront, but merely extended his hand out of the way as if to say ‘I’ve noticed this insult, so watch it; but I’m not that bothered as my people will deal with you’. An overt reaction would have been beneath him, but his casual response to the buffeting carried a threat of heavy retribution.

Richard took the Lord Marshall’s drawn sword and made the combatants swear not to plot against him. There was a feverishness to this demand, resulting from Richard’s cognisance of Mowbray’s barely concealed animosity towards him.

Bolingbroke offered Mowbray a chance to admit his involvement in Gloucester’s death. Mowbray paused at length before refusing to do so.

Seeing Gaunt’s tears at his son’s sentence, Richard deducted four years from Bolingbroke’s exile, producing yet more sycophantic applause from his favourites. But Bolingbroke’s stern reaction to this seemed more a critique of royal prerogative than gratitude for the reprieve.

Gaunt tried to cheer him up, but Bolingbroke could only look at the ground. Bolingbroke bid farewell by touching England’s “sweet soil”. It was possible that the relative restraint of this gesture was meant to stick in our minds, later to be contrasted with the elaborate effusion of Richard’s greeting to the same soil on his return from Ireland.


Richard was found changing clothes while looking in a mirror (1.4). This early instance of Richard with a mirror was a nod and a wink to those familiar with the play, pointing towards the cracked mirror in the deposition scene.

As Aumerle (Oliver Rix) approached, Richard’s favourites turned and whispered to the king conspiratorially. Richard broke off from the huddle, with his first words “We did observe” forming a reply to them. He asked Aumerle slyly about what had happened when he had accompanied Bolingbroke on his departure. His brief, terse questions indicated his suspicion, while his preening in the mirror spoke of his vanity.

Tennant did a good job of conveying the sense of the potentially opaque phrase “whether our kinsman come to see his friends”, making it plain that Richard saw this possible visitation as a threat.

Richard mocked Bolingbroke, but became angry when remarking “As were our England in reversion his” revealing Richard’s fears of being usurped.

He decided to go to Ireland just before news came of Gaunt’s illness. He held up his own garment to comment that dead Gaunt’s riches would “make coats to deck our soldiers”.

Gaunt was visibly haggard and feverish when he was helped onstage by York (2.1). A chair was provided for him, but initially Gaunt stood as the consistently grumpy York explained how Richard would not heed good advice as his ear was “stopped with other, flatt’ring sounds”.

Gaunt launched into the iconic “royal throne of kings” speech while York stood close by and nodded vigorously in agreement with the various elements of his long complaint.

The royal party entered with a flourish on the stage left walkway. Richard’s initial cold greeting to Gaunt developed into pity and witty sparring between them, until Gaunt launched into his second long speech attacking Richard directly. He sat to save his strength before telling Richard “I see thee ill” and pointing at the king’s favourites to single them out as “those physicians that first wounded thee”.

Richard interrupted him, angrily dragged Gaunt from his chair and grabbed him forcefully round the neck, thereby amplifying his threat to remove Gaunt’s head “from thy unreverent shoulders”. The king’s anger turned to physical aggression, possibly with a conscious determination to shorten the life of this “Lunatic lean-witted fool”.

Gaunt weakened noticeably at the end of his final rant at Richard and was taken way upstage right. Richard pursued him, urging “And let them die that age and sullens have”, words that seemed to express the intention behind his rough treatment of the sick man.

York tried to assuage the angry king, but Richard only delighted in picking him up on his comparison between Gaunt and Hereford, sarcastically implying that Gaunt was similarly disliked.

Northumberland (Sean Chapman) returned to announce that Gaunt had died. This was all the more shocking because Gaunt was visibly younger than York, which made his passing appear very untimely and far from the result of natural causes.

York knelt in prayer and rued the death of his brother. Richard approached and put a comforting hand on his back. The apparent respect behind his comforting references to how “The ripest fruit first falls” and “our pilgrimage” was undercut when Richard brusquely clapped him on the back and turned away with a curt “So much for that”. Tennant’s emotionally cold interpretation of Richard was fully warranted by the character’s behaviour at this point.

Richard dispatched his favourites to seize Gaunt’s property, tersely dismissing York’s objections to the disinheritance of Bolingbroke.

Bushy, Bagot and Green returned with silverware and other goods as the expropriation went ahead.

As the royal party began to leave, Richard enjoined his sour-faced queen (Emma Hamilton) to “Be merry”. This highlighted her depressed mood, of which she spoke herself in the next scene.

Northumberland and his associates were left behind to criticise the injustice of Richard’s rule, after which Northumberland revealed that Bolingbroke had returned from exile and had landed at Ravenspurgh.

The back wall projection showed a white hart as the queen entered with Bushy and Bagot (2.2). The queen’s premonitions captured well the sense of impending disaster. Bushy and Bagot had brought with them a set of perspective pictures and a cylindrical mirror viewer, all of which had probably recently been looted from Gaunt’s house.

After trying to conceal the objects behind their backs, they found an immediate use for them. They showed her a series of images reflected in the viewer, hastily skipping over one, possibly because of its racy content, as they explained that her grief was similar to an optical illusion.

Green arrived with news of Bolingbroke’s landing, which confirmed the queen in her dark forebodings.

York was still ill-tempered, complaining that “nothing lives but crosses, cares and grief”. He became the dismal embodiment of the grief of which the queen had spoken.

The death of the Duchess of Gloucester brought more gloom with York ruminating “How shall we do for money for these wars?” As he continued with his preparations for Richard’s Irish war, he turned to Bushy, Bagot and Green and asked “Gentlemen, will you go muster men?” They shrugged their shoulders and looked clueless in response, producing more despondency in York as he walked off in his habitual grump. His grumble that “everything is left at six and seven” as he disappeared off the walkway, tinged his departure with comedy.

The favourites were left alone. Realising that the tide of events was turning against them, Green and Bushy decided to seek refuge in Bristol while Bagot left for Ireland.

Brambles were projected at the back as Bolingbroke, now returned to England, and Northumberland made their way along the road (2.3). Percy (Edmund Wiseman) soon caught up with them and was introduced to Bolingbroke.

At this stage, Bolingbroke looked like a reasonable successor to Richard. He had personal warmth and his greetings and conversation seemed sincere. This contrasted with the deliberately chilly characterisation Tennant gave to the incumbent monarch. But this did not prevent Bolingbroke being very abrupt with Berkeley when he omitted to address him as “Lancaster”.

Despite his contrite kneeling posture, Bolingbroke incurred the full force of York’s wrath for returning from exile. The fury was all the more effective for emanating from one of the frailest characters in the production.

But York could not maintain that level of animosity for long. After his initial outburst, York wilted and faded as he realised that he could not resist Bolingbroke’s onward march. He said “Unless you please…” and after a considerable pause continued “… to enter in the castle…” wafting his hand at waist height as if positively encouraging them to accompany him.

He appeared tempted by the opportunity to join Bolingbroke in Bristol to see Bushy and Bagot dealt with. But he reverted to his customary despondency when saying that “Things past redress are now with me past care”.

The moon was projected on to the back wall to provide a backdrop for the brief scene in which the Welsh Captain (Joshua Richards) informed Salisbury (Simon Thorp again) that his forces were departing, referencing how “the pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth” as one of many portents that the king was dead (2.4).

Bushy and Green were dragged out of a large upstage trap (3.1). Bolingbroke castigated them for living off his rightful inheritance while he had enjoyed nothing but “the bitter bread of banishment”. Bushy and Green were led away to execution.

Their severed heads were quickly delivered back to Bolingbroke, who brandished them joyously, one in each hand, as he announced “A while to work, and after holiday”. The equation of revenge murder with holidaying provided a stark reminder of Bolingbroke’s callousness.

Richard took off his shoes to run barefoot on the ground when he returned from Ireland (3.2). The seaside location was indicated by a brief crash of waves and squawk of seagulls.

In a grand, self-dramatising gesture, he lay on the ground to caress and talk with the “Dear earth” like a long-lost friend, calling on the soil to bring forth obstacles to Bolingbroke’s advance. Once this conversation was finished, his “mock not” indicated his sudden awareness that the others were taking note of his eccentricity.

He was told how Bolingbroke had taken advantage of his absence to return from exile. Richard compared himself to the rising sun and assured Carlisle and Aumerle that he had many a “glorious angel” fighting on his side. The scariest aspect of this speech was that he actually seemed to believe what he was saying. The staging of a key subsequent scene would refer back to this description.

Salisbury announced that the Welsh forces had departed. Richard suddenly realised that he was 20,000 men down.

He panicked and clutched at Aumerle, who clutched him reassuringly back, enabling Richard to compose himself sufficiently to announce “Am I not king?”


His revival was short-lived. Scroop (Keith Osborn) brought news of a general revolt, at which point Richard started to spit in anger at the Judases that had betrayed him.

But when he learnt that Bushy and Bagot had been executed, he fell on all fours in shock. Still reeling from hearing of their deaths, he crawled across to the centre of the stage to speak “of graves, of worms and epitaphs”.

Richard crouched and saying “let us sit upon the ground” ordered his followers to do likewise. Once they had complied and sat observing him at a distance, he began to speak like a disturbed child about the “sad stories of the death of kings”.

A key point came when he referred to how Death allowed kings “a little scene, to monarchize”. He stretched out his arms to his companions needily expressing how he might “want friends”.

He rolled the crown away from him, but it was gathered and placed back on his head by the Bishop (Jim Hooper) who, together with Aumerle, helped Richard to his feet. Their support made him snap out of his mood with a grateful “Thou chid’st me well”.

He grabbed Aumerle’s sword and wielded it promising to “change blows” with Bolingbroke. But his confidence did not last long. He exploded at Aumerle, slapping his friend’s sides, when news came of York’s defection to Bolingbroke. He exited despondently on a journey to Flint Castle or as he figuratively expressed it “from Richard’s night to Bolingbroke’s fair day”.

Bolingbroke and his followers gathered outside Flint Castle (3.3). He sent Northumberland to talk to Richard.

A spectacular sight interrupted Bolingbroke’s preparations to confront the king.

The gantry descended partway carrying the resplendent figure of Richard in his regal robe, with crown, sceptre and orb in his hands, accompanied by Aumerle who was turned to face him. The king glowed like the bright sun of his rhetorical imaginings in 3.2. In the stage right gallery were some of his followers, hands held together in prayer, facing towards him in adoration, while in the opposite gallery the choir sang as if in his praise.

Richard imperiously demanded to know why Bolingbroke had returned, and threatened nigh-on divine retribution against him.

The staging of this moment showed us Richard as he imagined himself. But Bolingbroke and York also commented on this grand vision. The staging thus converted both Richard’s imagined version of himself, as well as Bolingbroke and York’s interpretation of his presence, into a majestic stage reality. The fact that the staging had given us a fanciful vision of Richard’s self image spoke of his detachment and self-absorption.

Northumberland, now lit, faced the audience as he addressed Richard who was above and behind him on the gantry. Despite Richard’s powerful entry, he conceded to Northumberland’s request to talk with Bolingbroke. His reply was in fact spoken by Aumerle who repeated what Richard silently mouthed in his ear.

After Northumberland had left, Richard took off his glittering royal outer garment in a moment that marked the restoration of reality after his almost supernatural entrance, and turned to Aumerle. Richard asked him if he had made a mistake and should call back Northumberland to send Bolingbroke defiance.

Aumerle noticed and remarked on Northumberland’s return, at which point Richard asked him whether he should resign. For all the solemnity of his thought, he was still very skittish and playful in his delivery of “A little, little grave, an obscure grave”, with the second phrase rushing out and overriding the conclusion of the first.

This terrible prospect caused Aumerle to weep silently, hiding his face from Richard lest he see his shameful tears.

At 3.3.171 he chided Aumerle “you mock at me” (Folio version, not “laugh”). He then kissed Aumerle on the lips and went to put the crown on his head, an offer Aumerle shunned. This gesture, obviously not indicated in any stage direction, established Aumerle as Richard’s main favourite, side-lining the others and preparing the way for the betrayal in the production’s rewritten ending. It was important to position Aumerle as the principal favourite so that his betrayal had bite.

Richard turned to Northumberland and enquired what Bolingbroke wanted. The king was bitterly sarcastic about the request to descend into the base court. This mood continued when he actually met Bolingbroke. As the usurper and his followers knelt before Richard, the king pointed at the crown on his head mocking Bolingbroke for having an ambition aimed “Thus high at least”.

It was decided that Richard should depart for London, at which point the interval came. As the stage emptied, Aumerle cuffed York, highlighting the tension between them.

The second half began with the Queen accompanied by her two ladies in the garden (3.4). They responded to her questions about how they might occupy themselves as if humouring her. This subtly suggested the Queen’s fragile state of mind, which her ladies were taking great care not to aggravate.

They all hid from the Gardener (Joshua Richards again) and his Man (Elliot Barnes-Worrell) behind the poles that supported the bead curtain screens. The Gardener gave a cane to his young assistant to use as “supportance to the bending twigs”. Both had rustic accents.

After they had talked of Richard’s impending deposition, the Queen rushed forward. Recognising her, they knelt. Having ascertained the facts, the Queen decided to set off for London.

The audience tittered at Gage-o-geddon ™ (4.1). Bolingbroke encouraged Bagot to speak freely, so he accused Aumerle of being behind the death of Gloucester. Recrimination and accusations of lying flew about, as did the gages, the number of which risked tipping the scene into comedy.

There was something funny about the overly dramatic way that the gauntlets were thrown to the ground. The fact that Aumerle ran out of gloves and had to borrow one with which to challenge the reported testimony of the banished Mowbray did not help matters.

However, mourning over the death of Mowbray in exile helped to restore an air of seriousness.

York informed them that Richard was prepared to resign. He was accompanied by a servant bearing the crown and warder on a cushion. The throne was already in position behind them, which Bolingbroke was invited to ascend and which he indicated he would occupy.

The Bishop of Carlisle castigated Bolingbroke’s ambition and was promptly arrested.

Henry sat on the throne with the attendant bearing the crown and sceptre on his immediate left. Richard entered in a long white robe, his long plait undone. Being confronted with Henry’s semi-regal presence prompted Richard to ask “why am I sent for to a king…?”

He was very David Tennant when remarking about the courtiers around him saying “Were they not mine?” with a quizzical high pitch to his voice.

He stood downstage and faced the audience to intone “God Save the King!”, surprised that no one else joined in.

Richard asked for the crown, which was brought to him on the cushion. He took the crown and faced the audience, then held the crown with his outstretched right hand before bidding Bolingbroke take it from him. His second “Here, cousin” was spoken tauntingly as if he was saying “Here, kitty” to a cat.

This was a brilliant tactical move. Bolingbroke, ensconced comfortably on the throne was now obliged to rise from it and effectively beg for this ultimate symbol of royal authority, while simultaneously quitting his secure tenure on the relatively minor regal symbol of the throne. To get what he really wanted he was forced to make a demeaning, unregal display of his desire.

Doubt and hesitation played across his face. But then Bolingbroke advanced, stretched out his hand to grasp the crown on the other side. After a brief moment in which Richard described how they both held it either side, he deftly inverted it to begin his analogy about buckets in a well, the upside down crown serving as the mouth of the well.

Richard was determined to remain symbolically in power for as long as possible. In effect, all he had at this point were the symbolic trappings of authority, as actual power had long ago transferred to Bolingbroke. But as Bolingbroke had first taken hold of this symbol of royal power, Richard had symbolically reasserted his control over it by changing its position and giving it a new analogical meaning.

Games like this were all that Richard had left. Fate now only allowed him to play “a little scene, to monarchize” as he had indicated earlier.

This led into the debate about which of them had the most cares. Bolingbroke brought this game to an end with a simple question: “Are you contented to resign the crown?”

Richard relaxed his grip letting the crown move towards Bolingbroke as he said “Ay”, but then snatched it away towards him saying “no”, paused to repeat “No”, before conceding defeat by saying “ay” and letting the crown dangle limply in his outstretched hand.

Richard drew close and stared at him intently, holding the crown close but firmly within his own grasp, demanding that Bolingbroke and all those present, “mark me how I will undo myself”.


He placed the crown on his head, sat on the throne with the sceptre in his hand and went through his long, at times incantatory, list of renouncements. This was his last regal act. Soon reluctant was Richard to let go of his kingship that he last act as monarch was effectively to devise his own elaborate resignation ceremony and to perform it with all due officiousness.

Rising from the throne he approached Bolingbroke, put the sceptre in his hand, and saying “God save King Henry” placed the crown on Bolingbroke’s head before bending to kiss his feet.

Surprised at this rhetorical ceremony of Richard’s own devising and at Richard’s fawning obeisance, Bolingbroke took a few embarrassed steps back as if retreating from the attentions of a deranged but harmless individual.

Richard then asked “What more remains?” at which Northumberland showed him the list of crimes to which he had to confess. Richard testily pointed out that Northumberland’s crimes included the “deposing of a king”, but Northumberland irritatedly restated the demand.

Richard denounced Northumberland as “thou haught insulting man” and also spat out his desire to be “a mockery king of snow”. The stark contrast in the portrayal of Richard and Bolingbroke showed how Richard was living in a fantasy world of principle and symbol.

Richard asked for a mirror. But Northumberland’s repeated insistence that Richard read the paper became so heated that the situation seemed on the verge of erupting into violence, prompting Bolingbroke to caution Northumberland “Urge it no more”.

When the small circular hand mirror arrived, Richard looked into it and pulled on his face, examining its lines. He dropped the mirror to demonstrate the fragility of the image it reflected “As brittle as the glory is the face”, just as casually as he had earlier dropped his warder. The small hand mirror visibly cracked but did not shatter loudly. Richard crouched and leant over it, at which point he resembled Narcissus gazing at his reflection in the water.

Bolingbroke comforted Richard by saying that “the shadow of your sorrow hath destroyed the shadow of your face”. This remark produced sycophantic laughter from Bolingbroke’s followers. But they had only registered that their master had scored a point in an argument and had not fully appreciated the imagery. Their unthinking laughter highlighted how Bolingbroke and Richard, despite their enmity, shared a poetic temperament that set them apart from the others.

Richard really loved Bolingbroke’s reference to him as “fair cousin”, and remarked what a grand change it was to have a king as a flatterer.

Richard was conveyed away and Bolingbroke’s coronation was arranged. In a final parting gesture, Bolingbroke deliberately stamped his heel into the broken mirror as he walked over it.

The anti-Bolingbroke conspirators were left behind to confer over their plot.

The Queen and her ladies made their way through the London streets as random citizens ran amok making gibbering noises (5.1). Richard was brought in handcuffed and collapsed at her feet. He was pelted by the populace with one measly bit of mud.

The couple crouched on the ground as Richard urged her to flee to France. A crowd of Londoners carrying torches gathered to watch them. They buffeted their way forward but were restrained by the queen’s ladies and the guards.

At 5.1.34 “Which art a lion and the king of beasts” was met by a “rawww” from the crowd, which prompted Richard to turn on them directing “A king of beasts, indeed!” at them.

Northumberland appeared in the middle gallery. The crowd laughed when they heard that Richard was to be taken to Pomfret. He said to the Queen “With all swift speed you must away to France” and the crowd mockingly cheered her imminent departure.

Richard was bitterly sarcastic to Northumberland, saying that Bolingbroke would come to mistrust him.

The crowd jeered when the couple kissed, and laughed when the queen suggested “Banish us both” as a compromise.

The agony Richard felt when separated from the queen looked genuine. She was only person to whom Richard was persistently affectionate. The genuine nature of his love for Isabel perhaps helped to blunt the edge of the unlikeable characterisation of Richard so carefully established over the rest of the performance. Richard and Isabel kissed and parted.

As the London crowd dispersed, they revealed behind them the solitary figure of York sitting on a bench (5.2).

He was joined by the vivacious Duchess of York (Marty Cruickshank), who told her husband the story of Bolingbroke’s progress through London. The audience laughed at the theatre in-joke about the “well-graced actor” being followed by one whose “prattle” was tedious.

Aumerle appeared, quickly stuffing his plot bond into his top before making indifferent replies to his parents’ questions.

Inquisitive York snatched the paper from him and was angered by its contents, calling for his horse to be saddled and for his boots. The Duchess was concerned for her son’s fate and York’s repeated misogynist put-downs were stressed as part of the scene’s fun.

The Duchess realised that Aumerle’s life was at stake, so she swiped her husband’s boots and threw them offstage to delay his departure. Once York had set off to warn Bolingbroke, she sent Aumerle after him and prepared to depart herself.

The following court scene began with a joking reference to the unseen Prince Hal and his London high jinks, which made a nice in-joke for the fans of the tetralogy (5.3). Aumerle ascended the steps from the large trap to speak with King Henry. They were left alone to ensure their privacy and Aumerle locked the door at the bottom of the trap. York shouted to be admitted from down below and was eventually let in brandishing the incriminating paper. He was very out of breath from the exertion of the ride.

King Henry said that York’s goodness excused his son’s fault, but York went into a loud grump at Henry’s leniency. The Duchess tried to enter the room, prompting King Henry’s “Our scene is altered from a serious thing”. York exclaimed a loud “oh” when he finally recognised his wife’s voice. She was finally let in, and used her riding crop to beat her husband as she contradicted him.

The comedy of the bickering and competitive kneeling was funny, particularly when the Duchess spread her arms wide claiming “Our prayers do outpray his” to which poor York responded by trying to throwing his hands even wider.

The sequence culminated in the Duchess pleading to hear the king’s pardon before she would rise from her knees.

The effect of York’s French reference, with “pardon” meaning “sorry but no”, was lost in the phrase’s delivery, but the lurch into French was nonetheless vaguely comic.

Henry agreed to pardon Aumerle, and was reassuringly blunt about it. But his decision to pursue and punish the other conspirators showed that he was not purely merciful.

Henry pointedly told Aumerle, drawing him aside before he left, “Your mother well have prayed, and prove you true”. This looked like a warning: a shot across Aumerle’s bows constituting a considerable incentive to him to do something to prove his loyalty to Henry. The Duchess also admonished her son, pointing at him with her riding crop saying “I pray God make thee new”.

Scene 5.4 was entirely cut for reasons which would soon become obvious.

A massive section of the stage tilted up to reveal a large deep recess beneath. On reflection this transformation of the stage, with the RSC showing off the full capabilities of their new theatre, began to look like spectacle for the sake of it. Was this the RST or was it Tracy Island? Impossible to tell. The deployment of the full toy box of effects contrasted with the simplicity of the very effective and uncomplicated staging of the play by Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory.

Gradually as the glassy underside of the panel came to rest, the figure of Richard became dimly visible in its reflection as he began to speak (5.5). At first it seemed that Richard was the other side of a translucent panel chained to a sloping surface just behind it, but the clanking of the chains by which he was held prisoner determined his precise location as in the recess, with the shiny panel showing a dim reflection of his recumbent form.

It was somehow disappointing that the beginning of Richard’s most eloquent and quiet speech, the one in which as a helpless and humbled prisoner he shows his frailty and begins to win us over with his humility, the most verbal and personal passage in the play, was heralded by an attention-seeking demonstration by the set, which continued, literally and metaphorically, to overshadow the focus of our interest.

The set design trumped the language, where the staging should have achieved the opposite. The chains were at times very noisy and risked drowning out individual words, particularly when Richard finally rose to a standing position and we could see him clearly in the dungeon recess.

In keeping with the lack of respect for the words, some very touching parts of the speech such as the specific content of his “thoughts divine” and “scruples” were cut, by skipping straight from “For no thought is contented” to “Thus play I…” But his flipping between wishing himself a beggar and then a king was kept. Music was played which jarred with him.

Also cut was the reference to the “numb’ring clock” with its analogy between the face, body and timepiece. This sequence was an essential expression of the effects of imprisonment on his state of mind and as such was integral to the depiction of Richard at this moment. Cutting the phrase on the grounds that the audience would not ‘get it’, ignored the key point that this opacity deliberately points to his distracted condition. The excision therefore had the effect of making Richard appear relatively mentally composed.

Filleting a scene of its more obscure parts displays a lack of trust in either the audience’s knowledge or its inquisitiveness and sense of wonder. Any production that cares about the language of this play should leave this marvellous scene intact.


The Groom (Elliot Barnes-Worrell again) came to visit and spoke to Richard about his favourite horse. His use of the word “erned” was emended to “yearned”.

The Keeper (Joshua Richards again) brought Richard food and unchained him so that he could eat it, but would not taste it as he usually did. The reference to Exton was changed so that 5.5.100 read “Sir Piers of Exton, who There lately came one from the King, commands the contrary”.

Suspecting a plot, Richard attacked the Keeper and the other murderers burst in. Richard did very well to attack and kill them. The last one stabbed Richard in the back, but with his dying energy Richard ripped off his killer’s balaclava. It was Aumerle. Gasps echoed out from the audience.

Richard’s mention of “Exton” at 5.5.109 was obviously cut following Pope’s emendation, which had the effect not only of facilitating the changed ending, but of making the line metrical. He gazed at his friend and stressed quizzically “thy fierce hand” so that the phrase became another “Et tu, Brute?”

The ending had been changed to create a moment of almost Victorian melodrama, possibly very confusing for any of the schoolchildren viewing the special schools’ broadcast of the recording, who presumably would need to be informed that the ending was not the one that Shakespeare actually wrote.

Taking the changed ending on its own terms raises the question whether Aumerle killed Richard to prove his loyalty to Henry after his narrow escape from death at the new monarch’s hands following the uncovering of his role in the plot against the king.

The only problem with the staging of Richard’s death was that as he collapsed dead, he disappeared out of sight into the dungeon recess.

Exton’s lines were given to Aumerle and the transferred words served well at expressing Aumerle’s very particular regret at his actions.

King Henry was flown in on the gantry with his orb and sceptre, making a regal appearance before receiving news of rebel captures (5.6). York stood in attendance, now walking with the aid of a stick, marking his enfeeblement.

Aumerle dragged in an open coffin containing Richard’s dead body. Henry made a big display of descending from the gantry in order to castigate him, with his references to Exton changed to Aumerle.

Northumberland and the other nobles backed away from Henry when they realised that Richard had been murdered, apparently on Henry’s instructions. Richard tried to assuage the departing men with “Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe”.

Henry and York stooped over the coffin to gaze at Richard’s body. Henry then looked out to the audience and vowed “to make a voyage to the Holy Land / To wash this blood from off my guilty hand”, holding his hand out as if disgusted by imagining it stained with Richard’s blood.

Richard then appeared in spotlight and walked onto the gantry to look down at the scene of Henry’s appalled expression and outstretched hand, with York still knelt in sadness over the coffin. The lights extinguished.

This final image of Henry vowing to undertake a journey that he would never make overlooked by Richard, could be seen as a foreshadowing of his death. The only Jerusalem that Henry would reach would be the Jerusalem Chamber in which he died. And the Jerusalem Chamber, built by Richard II, has a roof decorated with his emblem. So that when Henry looked upwards dying he would have seen an emblematic reminder of Richard. This staging with Henry looking aghast, thinking about ‘Jerusalem’ with Richard physically above him looking down seemed to echo the circumstances of Henry’s death.


Tennant’s Richard was a stunning combination of the extremely feminised and the uncompromisingly dislikeable, while also providing a fascinatingly textured characterisation.

While this production was intricately detailed, it suffered in comparison with the Tobacco Factory version, which being a small dark room with no set tends to strip plays to their linguistic core and delivers that core of language at close quarters.

By contrast, the huge RST auditorium lacked studio theatre intimacy and sometimes the elaborate staging shifted focus from the poetic meat of the language. The ‘Tracy Island’ prison sequence encapsulated this striving for visual effect while simultaneously not trusting the full text.

The melodramatic rewrite of the ending meant that the production strayed into adaptation territory.

Arrest Rylance

Much Ado About Nothing, Old Vic, 28 September 2013

This production was dreadful. So bad that at points I had to close my eyes because I could not bear to look at it. At the end I did not applaud because I was so stunned at its ineptitude. Leaving the Old Vic, I expected to see blue police tape cordoning it off so that the crime I had just witnessed could be investigated.

It really did look as if the director Mark Rylance had completely abandoned the project and the cast had been left to cobble together something themselves.

Though I had to admire James Earl Jones for puffing his way through his lines like The Little Engine That Could, Vanessa Redgrave recited her part with the casual neglect of someone who had already been paid and whose mind was definitely elsewhere.

By writing this much I have already devoted more thought to the production than evidently went into its making. Enough.

Crime scene


Edward II, Olivier Theatre, 5 September 2013

The first character to speak in this production was the set. A yellow stepped dais stood amidst a yellow carpet downstage, while behind it was a plywood box room constructed so that its inside was audience-ready and its unpainted surfaces and mechanisms were on the outside.

On the stage left side of the dais was a table adorned with props, behind that was an electric keyboard at which a pianist (Sam Cable) eventually sat to play harpsichord music in whose intervals some early arrivers dutifully clapped. Near to the keyboard, a Henry vacuum cleaner smirked out at the audience and was eventually used by one of the black-clad stage crew to give the yellow carpet around the dais a final once-over before the performance begun.

Behind the box room, the set of the National’s Othello could be glimpsed in the distance. Just before curtain up, the rear of the set was closed off with curtains behind an array of heraldic banners which formed a backdrop.

The unconventional set, music and vacuuming all spoke to tell us that we were not about to watch a dry historical re-enactment.

Areas of bare white concrete either side of the proscenium were used as projection screens throughout the production.

Right at the start a silent countdown of images of British monarchs took us from Elizabeth II back to Edward II. This deliberate historical positioning suggested that we were being taken back in time, an idea immediately complicated by the extra-textual staging of Edward II’s coronation.

A gold curtain descended behind the carpeted dais and Edward (John Heffernan) sat stiffly in his gold gown with orb and sceptre, flanked by his sister, wife and son. The prince was played by Bettrys Jones as a prep school pupil in cap and red blazer. All three were wearing modern dress.

Edward took his coronation oath making long pauses before affirming its conditions. Strictly speaking, this dramatisation was unnecessary. The coronation could have been staged as a dumb show, but the interrogation of Edward added a note of tension right at the start.

After cries of “Vivat! Vivat!” the congregation sang God Save The King and the happy royal family smiled and waved at imaginary well-wishers out in the audience.

Having taken us back in time with the series of royal portraits, we were then confronted with an historical re-enactment of a medieval coronation but with modern trappings. Further complication followed.

There was a pause. And then from seat M11 in the stalls came slow clapping and cries of “Bravo! Bravo! Vivat! Vivat!” A distinctive American voice applauded the just completed ceremony before rising out of his seat clutching a letter. This was Piers Gaveston (Kyle Soller).

Reading Edward’s invitation to him to return to England, he leapt over the side of the seating block, edged along the hand rail of the long aisle and then jumped down to make his way on stage (1).

Gaveston wore jeans and a t-shirt. Emerging from the audience, he was one of us, yet his American accent and breezy manner immediately distinguished him as an outsider to the world of the royal court. This was a clever way of hinting at the Frenchness of the historical Gaveston.

He wanted to be surrounded by “poets, pleasant wits, musicians” and relished his own description of the wanton entertainments he would organise for the king, before departing to make way for the entry of the king himself.

Edward shouted in anger as he stormed out of the box room, frustrated that the barons, who followed after him, would not consent to the return of his favourite Gaveston from exile.

Seeing John Heffernan as Edward felt like a continuation of seeing his Richard II, but there was also a discordance between the intimate, minimal Tobacco Factory style and the expansive, no-expense-spared NT style.

The warrior barons in their medieval battledress stood to one side, facing off against Edward’s rage.

Edward’s brother Edmund became here his sister Kent (Kirsty Bushell). As the men argued, her feminine figure in trouser-suit and heels figure struck an immediate contrast with the warrior barons. It was no surprise that she was disposed to take Edward’s side.

The barons left the king to digest their vague threats of violent retribution if Gaveston returned. Shortly afterwards whistling was heard offstage. The king recognised the sound as Gaveston and searched the horizon until he appeared. Once back onstage, Gaveston knelt formally, but the king urged him to get up. They embraced warmly but with no hint of any sexual element to their intimacy.

Edward showered a series of new titles on his favourite, each being marked with the bestowal of a golden goblet. There was an element of comedy in the way that he paused between each grant, went to a large table laden with treasures, and returned each time with a goblet, so that Gaveston was eventually weighed down with these gifts.

Having celebrated Gaveston’s return, Edward caught sight of the Bishop of Coventry (Stephen Wilson), the instigator of Gaveston’s exile, who had an Irish accent. The pair took their revenge by mobbing him and tearing off his stole. Gaveston was just about to brain the bishop with a candlestick, when Edward stopped him. Edward granted the bishopric as well as all the land and property that went with it to Gaveston.

The nobles gathered to ruminate on the repeal of Gaveston, noting his new titles and the violence done to the bishop. Their meeting took place in the box room, visible only as live close-up video projected onto the screens (2).

This scene, in which the clouds of war begin to gather, was for some reason presented as comedy. A phone rang, Warwick (Matthew Pidgeon) answered and repeated the information he was given, before telling the caller “I’ll call you back”. People began to laugh at the production rather than with it. This marked a puzzling descent into humour at a moment when dramatic tension should have increased. Another problem arose when it became apparent that different images were being projected onto each screen making it impossible to direct one’s gaze at just one.

Young Mortimer (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) spoke with Edward’s queen Isabella (Vanessa Kirby) outside the box room. She complained of being neglected by Edward, but was characterised as being primarily interested in how this neglect affected her own influence and status. There was an obvious flash of attraction between her and Young Mortimer.

Agreement was reached that the nobility would demand Gaveston’s banishment.

The brief scene 3 was cut so that the action continued with the nobles emerging from the box room with the formal legal document of banishment (4).


They gathered to sign the large sheaf of paper, eager that their will should prevail.

Edward appeared with Gaveston who still clutched the robe he had snatched from the bishop. He joked extra-textually “Did anyone order a bishop?” his frivolity immediately clashing with the earnestness of the barons.

To complete the contrast of tone, Edmund sat across throne with his feet in the air, with Gaveston crouched on the dais just below him. Their complicity nonchalance was a confident act of defiance.

The confrontation with Edward over the document culminated in mutual accusations of treachery between Young Mortimer and Gaveston. Kent tried to maintain peace, a role suited to a female civilian.

The initial happiness of Edward and Gaveston made the barons look like uncharitable aggressors, the “rude and savage-minded men” of Edward’s description, so that when Gaveston was taken away Edward was more than justified in tearing pages out of the barons’ document and throwing it back at them.

Realising that he could not buy off his opponents with titles, Edward reluctantly agreed to sign, which he did with a ballpoint pen, anachronistically clicked ready for use by one of the barons. His immediate tearful wish that the hand with which he had signed would fall off was very touching.

Gaveston returned and directed an understandable look of hurt at Edward, who offered him gold to make his exile comfortable. Edward also offered a picture of himself. Instead of gratefully accepting the miniature, Gaveston lashed out and hit Edward, who reeled from the blow.

This attack is not in the text and came midway in a sentence, which meant that Edward made no comment on it. As he recovered he said nothing other than offering to wear Gaveston’s picture. The effect of this was to suggest that by not defending himself verbally Edward was admitting to Gaveston that he had wronged him.

In the aftermath of this incident, the pair achieved a degree of unity by turning on Isabella. Gaveston accused her of consorting with Young Mortimer, while Edward blamed her for instigating the call for Gaveston’s exile.

The barons found a distraught Isabella. Their concern soon turned to disbelief and annoyance when Isabella told them that it was in their best interests for Gaveston to return. Isabella appeared to be mainly concerned about how Edward’s dislike of her resulted in social exclusion at court. Her mercenary attitude contributed to the impression that everyone at this level of society was thoroughly unpleasant.

Isabella took Young Mortimer into the box room to explain her reasoning. He returned and grudgingly admitted that the repeal of Gaveston from exile was the best ploy because this made it possible for him to be killed.

When Lancaster (Alex Beckett) asked Young Mortimer why this had not been done before, the reply “Because, my lords, it was not thought upon” introduced a note of comedy into these serious proceedings. The barons nevertheless agreed to this plan.

Having worn his gold gown throughout the preceding scenes, King Edward had now changed into modern casual dress and appeared with Gaveston’s picture hung prominently around his neck.

Isabella informed Edward that Gaveston would be recalled. Edward was overjoyed, prompting Isabella’s question “But will you love me if you find it so?” He hugged her and gestured to the barons to kneel, which they did reluctantly. Young Mortimer eventually stood up, which singled him out.

The subplot of Gaveston’s marriage and the character of Lady Margaret were cut. The initial mention of this marriage was therefore cut from this scene.

Pre-recorded video projected onto the screens showed Spencer (Nathaniel Martello-White) and Baldock (Ben Addis) on the NT terrace (5). Spencer told Baldock that he planned to inveigle himself with the repealed Gaveston.

They made their way inside the building by climbing down a ladder. Some of this was speeded up for laughs, forming another puzzlingly inappropriate comic interlude.

Stopping off in one of the theatre’s control rooms, Spencer encouraged Baldock to “cast the scholar off”. In this modern setting some of Spencer’s anachronistic advice was rewritten as “Don’t be an arsehole”. Their meeting with Lady Margaret was cut. Spencer led Baldock onstage making gestures at the handheld camera that now tracked backwards in front of him as they ambled across the stage.

Edward waited for Gaveston holding a blue balloon like a child at a party (6). This was touching and funny. When Gaveston’s trademark whistling was heard, Edward’s face lit up. Gaveston walked down the aisle again and after joining Edward on stage the pair kissed for well over half a minute. This was the first overtly sexual behaviour they had exhibited towards each other.

The barons, however, only extended sarcastic greetings to the repealed favourite. Lancaster got down on one knee, flashing the underside of his kilt; Young Mortimer spoke in a mock American accent; Warwick gave a derisory thumbs up, while Pembroke (Penny Layden) was generally unenthusiastic.

Gaveston’s haughty response was to tell them to eat their tenants’ beef. It was somehow appropriate for this criticism of the feudal order to come from an obviously modern-day American, even though he was himself the minion of a monarch.

The barons’ anger erupted into a scuffle with Gaveston. The sequence mentioning the Scottish ransom, rebellions and Kerns was cut in a general move towards simplification, but also paradoxically this served to render the action of the play less time-specific.

Edward rued his lack of resolve and vowed to show his “paws”. Kent said that she was also opposed to Gaveston, causing Edward to reject her vehemently.

Edward accused Isabella of being the cause of the strife. This prompted her to approach Gaveston and show her love for him the only way she knew how. She lifted his shirt, caressed his body and kissed him. Gaveston, detecting the subtext of her apparent affection, threw her to the ground, where she lay without Edward displaying any concern.

A cosy domestic scene saw Gaveston introduce Spencer to Edward, who groped his new minion. This made it plain that Edward’s court was hedonistic and promiscuous. They went off into the box room and began to party.

Kent joined the side of the barons (7). Because she was the king’s sister, her sincerity was doubted until Young Mortimer vouched for her. Lancaster pointed out that Gaveston was frolicking with the king, which we could see via the video screens. They all turned to face the box room and then attacked.

They tore down the wooden frame and carried its component parts to the sides of the stage. Once the fast initial attack was over, the removal of the box room panels was laborious. This was an idea that probably looked better in the director’s head.

The king and Gaveston escaped the onslaught (8). Isabella told the barons that Gaveston had gone to Scarborough and they immediately spread the name and rushed off in pursuit. Isabella said that would go to France with her son.

Gaveston ran in and skipped over the dais but was soon caught by the pursuing barons (9). Pembroke reached for her handy waist-mounted gaffer tape dispenser and stuck a length of tape around his wrists to bind him.

Maltravers (Alex Beckett) communicated Edward’s request to see Gaveston, upon which Pembroke agreed to escort Gaveston to the rendez-vous. However, Warwick vowed to frustrate the plan.

The ambush was staged by simply having Warwick turn and capture Gaveston there and then with no change of location (10).


The sequence involving Spencer Senior, Levune, along with the departure of Isabella and the prince, was cut (11). This allowed the scene to focus on the reaction of Edward to the news that Gaveston was dead.

Edward discovered Gaveston’s abandoned jacket and fell to his knees seizing on it as he exclaimed. He continued to face the ground as he grimaced that “I will have heads and lives for him as many as I have…” He took the jacket and carried with him during the subsequent action and later wore it.

However, his anger was soon dissipated into an impetuous desire to make Spencer his new favourite. Not surprisingly, the barons demanded the ousting of Spencer too.

The production entered into a sequence of battles. The barons lined up to fight Edward’s men (12).

When the battle began the word “ALARUMS” was projected in large letters onto the screens (13). After the barons were defeated, three of them were driven over the dais and crouched face down, tired and defeated as Edward triumphed over them.

Kent was dealt with last and was relieved to be spared, unlike the others who were taken away, with Young Mortimer sent to the Tower.

The brief scene 14 showing that Young Mortimer had escaped from his prison was cut. The action continued with the arrival of Isabella and the prince with their luggage in France (15).

The prince sang a song in French and engaged in a mock battle with his mother, pretending to kill her and acting out the spurting of blood. The character of Sir John was cut so that we quickly saw Kent and the escaped Young Mortimer turn up in France.

Young Mortimer and Isabella, in France, talked and kissed upstage while downstage Edward and his favourites entered to announce his victory over the rebels (16).

Spencer recited part of the list of names of those executed taken by Marlowe from Holinshed. News came of the French plot of Isabella and Young Mortimer, who were soon seen with Kent arriving in England (17).

Kent had a change of heart and reverted to supporting her brother Edward (18). A battle was fought which saw the young prince stand on the dais cutting and thrusting with his sword shouting “Alarums!” as soldiers rushed around him. Afterwards Isabella and Young Mortimer celebrated their victory over Edward’s forces. The hokey cokey was sung and Prince Edward danced about. The character of Rhys Ap Howell was cut.

Video was used to great effect to transform the centre of the stage into the dark, dank recesses of the monastery in which Edward, Spencer and Baldock had taken refuge from their pursuers (19). They were filmed together with the Abbot in close-up with an overlaid sound effect of dripping water.

Although the group were clearly visible in the middle of the stage, the lighting meant that the image on the screens had a black background, creating the impression that they were isolated in near darkness.

Soldiers broke in and arrested Spencer and Baldock. Edward was told “Your majesty must go to Killingworth”, using the ominous original spelling of Kenilworth. At this late juncture in the play, the interval came.

The set was rearranged for the second half of the performance. The centre of the stage was dominated by a large metal container on top of which stood a throne along with other items of furniture and clutter. Leading off from the side of the container was an open-sided curtained-off costume rack. The structure was solid but makeshift.

Young Mortimer and Isabella lounged on top of the box, while down below on stage Edward lamented his fall (20). This was expressed very eloquently in the line “But what are kings, when regiment is gone, but perfect shadows in a sunshine day?”

As he spoke of his wife Isabella “who spots my nuptial bed with infamy” we could see her atop the box as she lay in that bed with Young Mortimer.

Faced with demands to yield his crown, he offered it up to the bishop (David Sibley), but then reclaimed it saying that he wanted to remain king and gaze at the crown until nightfall. This led into a touching appeal to the stars and planets “you watches of the element” to stand still so that time would come to a stop allowing him to draw out this moment indefinitely.

He replaced the crown on his head and wondered out loud why his appearance in the regalia of authority no longer cowed those around him.

Pressed further to resign his crown, Edward offered it saying “Here, receive my crown”. But instantly revoked the offer “Receive it? No…” At this point the debt that Shakespeare owed to Marlowe as the inspiration behind the similar moment in his Richard II became very apparent.

There was a very poignant moment when Edward stood and invited anyone to take the crown from him, facing the audience to underscore the generality of his offer.

Sat calmly on the dais and after a long pause, he finally relinquished the crown together with a white handkerchief for Isabella, soaked with his tears. If she would not accept this, it would be returned to Edward then to be dipped in his blood.

The shattered Edward walked upstage and was met by a camera operator who filmed his face in close-up as he slowly shuffled around the far upstage curve of the set.

His defeated and fatigued face was displayed permanently on screen during the entire subsequent scene so that its events were constantly underscored by the image of Edward’s misery at the periphery of the audience’s vision.

Young Mortimer strutted proudly with his chest bared on top of the container in the company of Isabella (21). He congratulated himself on defeating Edward as he outlined his scheme to have Prince Edward crowned and to rule the country as Protector.

News came that the king had resigned the crown. When the crown was offered up to them as they stood on top of the container, Isabella reached down for it, but Young Mortimer insisted on taking the crown and eagerly put it on his own head.

Hearing that Kent was planning to liberate Edward from captivity, Young Mortimer called for Gourney and Maltravers, who promptly appeared from inside the container. He ordered them to take control of Edward from his present captors and away from his sister Kent.

Kent brought in the young prince. Isabella called him and he clambered up on to the container. He was seated at the electric keyboard where he proceeded to play quiet isolated notes.

By now Edward had completed his circumnavigation of the back of the stage and was ushered into his Killingworth cell by Maltravers and Gourney (Matthew Pidgeon again) (22). A plastic sheet was swiftly spread across the downstage area in readiness for the ingress of fluid.

Maltravers fetched a bucket of water and Edward’s captors proceeded to shave part of his beard. This was videoed and projected onto the screens so that the look of horror on Edward’s face and the ignominy of his treatment were both magnified.

Despite his abject condition, Edward expressed noble sentiments. His “O Gaveston, it is for thee that I am wronged” speech looked good projected on to the big screens. Having being humiliated, he was abandoned on the ground still soaking wet.

Kent attempted a rescue but was seized by Gourney and Maltravers.

The king was left in place lying motionless on the plastic sheet for the duration of the next scene, once again providing a constant reminder of his condition while the action focused on the usurpers.


Young Mortimer finally decided that the king had to die (23). He summoned Lightborn to come forward. When Lightborn appeared and removed his helmet, we saw that it was Kyle Soller. This intriguing doubling was made even more significant by the fact that Soller kept the same American accent and attitude with which he had played Gaveston.

There was no attempt to distinguish the two characters or in any way to disguise the doubling. He faced the audience when he spoke to Young Mortimer, allowing us to positively identify him. We were in no doubt that these two were essentially the same.

Young Mortimer feared “thou wilt relent”, but Lightborn chuckled and cockily assured him that he would not, setting out his extensive experience as a killer before being sent on his mission.

Confident of ultimate victory, Young Mortimer strutted some more and flexed his pecs as he relished saying his own name.

The young prince was put on the throne for his coronation. Although the same oaths were made, the ceremony was a pitiful spectacle with Isabella prompting the poor confused child to assent. The crown was finally placed on his head, but it proved too big and fell to rest around his neck. The ridiculousness of the event was reinforced by the ritual singing of God Save The King to a child with his literally and metaphorically ill-fitting crown.

Kent was brought in for execution. The new King Edward III protested at this, but was assuaged by his mother. This was the first sign of Edward III’s independence of mind.

Back in Edward’s cell, Lightborn arrived to take over guard duty from Gourney and Maltravers (24). As he presented his credentials, Lightborn asked for a fire and a red hot spit to be made ready. There were already fires burning backstage so this was easy to provide. But he also asked for a featherbed, at which point a mattress was produced from inside the container with an extra-textual “One featherbed”.

Edward, who had remained motionless all throughout the preceding scene, crawled over to Lightborn, who was sat some distance away on the mattress.

He accused Lightborn of wanting to kill him, a suggestion that he vigorously and plausibly denied. The king complained of his terrible dank living conditions. When he wished that his blood would fall out of him “as doth this water from my tattered robes” he raised himself up so that water did actually drip from his soaked garments.

Lightborn’s attempted intimacy with Edward was deliberately designed to make us think back to the closeness between Gaveston and Edward. This raised the question of what the director was trying to say by this. Possibly it implied that Gaveston was in fact Edward’s worst enemy for misleading him.

Edward joined Lightborn on the mattress and offered him his last remaining jewel, a present from Isabella, which he hoped would dissuade him from murder.

Heffernan’s spellbinding performance in this sequence produced a very disturbing account of the king’s mental breakdown caused by his isolation and not knowing whom to trust.

Edward lay down to rest, but immediately rose again as he veered from comfort to anxiety.

Lightborn eventually put him out of his misery. Questioned again as to the purpose of his visit, Lightborn grimaced “To rid thee of thy life.”

Gourney and Maltravers rushed in with the table which was forced down onto Edward’s back. As they placed their feet on it to hold it in position, Lightborn forced the red hot spit into Edward’s rear.

Although very violent, there was no actual gore on show. But the unequivocal way in which Edward met his end produced some audience wincing. The plastic sheet was dragged off stage with Edward still on it.

Gourney completed the sequence by stabbing Lightborn. This was quite a shock as the casting had created the expectation that Lightborn was to be as significant a figure as Gaveston.

Maltravers informed Young Mortimer of Edward’s death. He compared himself to “Jove’s huge tree”. But his moment of certainty and ultimate triumph was soon cut short when Isabella warned him that the new King Edward III had heard of his father’s murder and was not at all pleased.

King Edward III stood downstage facing the audience dramatically uplit by footlights that gave a sinister look to his face. This was accentuated by the character being played by a mature woman pretending to be a boy. The overall effect was freakishly unsettling.

The harmless child who had previously lolloped around was now the shrill voice of authority and vengeful wielder of absolute power. He ordered the execution of Young Mortimer, which prompted Isabella to plead for his life.

The youthful king saw that her compassion for Young Mortimer implied her guilt in his father’s death and ordered her sent to the Tower. She was carried away screaming at her son. This grim exercise of royal authority was perhaps more disturbing than anything that had preceded it.

Young Mortimer’s head was brought to Edward in a plastic sack. Edward stood on the dais, with the gold curtain behind it, as at start, and offered the severed head to his father’s ghost.


The production avoided looking like an historical re-enactment and positioned itself as contemporary.

Looked at with modern eyes, the killing and cruelty that took place seemed particularly senseless. With many characters in modern dress, the king’s power and the feudal relations of this society looked primitive and inappropriate.

Kyle Soller’s American Gaveston was a subversive figure just by being a foreigner. But as an overtly American figure, the product of a country founded on the rejection of monarchy and feudalism, he embodied a negation of the entire world of the play.

Shakespeare’s Richard II offers the hope of better rule in the form of Bolingbroke: this play contains no such optimism and the ending here was commensurately grim and sinister.

Video was used effectively in places but at times the director seemed to play scenes for comedy and use video at points where it jarred.

While it had clever touches, Joe Hill-Gibbins’ directing was ultimately less fascinating than John Heffernan’s acting.