(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/23.)
Simon Godwin, having staged Farquhar, Shaw and O’Neill at the National, is fast becoming one of our best classical directors. While his Richard II doesn’t break new interpretative ground, it delivers the text clearly and demolishes Tynan’s quip about this being a play of “glittering feudal monotony” by emphasising its undercurrent of violence and ironic comedy.
Godwin’s main innovation is to preface the action with the coronation of the 10-year-old Richard: a shrewd touch, since it reminds us both of the king’s inherent belief in his divine unassailability and of the moral sanctions he was to violate. As played by Charles Edwards, Richard never fully matures but grows into a capricious, recklessly irresponsible monarch ruling over a court on the verge of disintegration. Even before the aborted joust between Bolingbroke and Mowbray, the two men and their factions are at each other’s throats. This sense of ancestral division, dating back to the murder of Richard’s uncle, reaches a climax in the absurdly hilarious scene where angry nobles hurl their gages at each other as if determined to look back in rancour.
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