Thursday, 14 November 2013

Richard II, Showcase Cinema de Lux, Bristol, Wednesday 14th November 2013


As the queue for Screen 11, the largest in Cabot Circus’ Cinema de Lux, wound around the concourse, I pondered the new-found passion of Bristolians for the works of the Bard.  Or were so many of them waiting to see this inaugural live broadcast from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford simply because David Tennant was playing the titular role?  Yet there wasn’t as much as a glimpse of a sonic screwdriver to be seen the length of the line. 

The evening’s entertainment began with a quaint 1950s introduction to Stratford, followed by a behind-the-scenes peek at the current production.  In between were shots of the stage with a set which looked holographic but actually comprised curtains of hanging chain onto which was projected the image of a soaring nave.  Into these regal surroundings sweeps the fickle, unconscionable Richard, who, having sanctioned the murder of his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, banishes his loyal agent, Mowbray, and Mowbray’s accuser, Bolingbroke, even as his victim’s coffin stands centre stage, before seizing Bolingbroke’s inheritance on the death of his father, John of Gaunt. 

It is hard to sympathise with the narcissistic, tyrannical King, but with Queen Elizabeth regarding the usurper Bolingbroke as a threat to the divine right of monarchy, that is what Shakespeare (wisely) asks us to do.  Thus, as his allies desert him and power shifts to the brusque and brutal Bolingbroke, newly returned from exile, the increasingly vulnerable Richard becomes – well, pitiable.

The paradox of this fey, self-defeating ruler is that he only grows in authority as his authority wanes.  Only when he has lost his kingship does Richard appear to value it, only then does the ‘hollow crown’, which earlier slipped almost over Tennant’s eyes, finally seem to fit. 

‘You can’t feel sorry for him!’ hissed my partner as we left the cinema. ‘Remember the Peasants' Revolt!’ But I was eavesdropping on the comments of the audience, in particular those who might have attended in the hope of seeing a reprise of ‘The Shakespeare Code’, when Doctor Who encounters a Bard in the process of writing his play, Love’s Labours Won.  The mood was enthusiastic, surprised even that the language had been a lot easier to understand than they had expected, and with the news that the screening had played to over 60,000 people and generated over £1 million in box office receipts in the UK alone, with more than 34,000 schoolchildren due to see it two days later, this has to be a cause for celebration.
  

Photograph © AP Images


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