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Richard II – Guildford Shakespeare Company

Shakespeare wrote Richard II in 1595 when Queen Elizabeth I was over 60 and without a direct heir. Consequently, the question of succession was on everybody’s mind. In this tumultuous period and setting rival factions of the nobility were vying for supremacy and influence. The play only covers the last two years of Richard’s life and is set during an economic crisis following the plague. Director Natasha Rickman has set Guildford Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard II in modern times with England in the midst of an altogether new pandemic (COVID) and in a new economic crisis. A debauched Government that has completely lost any sense of civic duty and is only out for what it can get certainly translates well to modern politics. This is wittily demonstrated with wheely suitcases of booze being brought into parties and the document shredder being put to good use throughout.

GSC Richard II (Daniel Burke). Photo by Mark Dean.
GSC Richard II (Daniel Burke). Photo by Mark Dean.

Daniel Burke plays Richard with the perfect mix of charisma and arrogance, an egotistical showman enjoying the support of the public until he goes too far. When he is asked to arbitrate a dispute between nobleman Mowbray (Eddy Payne) and his cousin Bolingbroke (played in this production as a female Henri) he enjoys his power, making them take part in a cruel duel before deciding their fate, he banishes Mowbray for life and Bolingbroke for 6 years. This arbitrary decision with no explanation is the beginning of Richard’s downfall. When Henri’s mother Joan of Gaunt dies, Richard seizes all her land and assets that should have gone to Henri. This really seals Richard’s fate as he has angered or unnerved much of the Nobility who now fear for their own possessions.

Laura Matthews gives a fantastic performance as Bolingbroke as do Anne Kavanagh as Joan and the ever-reliable Matt Pinches as the advisor Bushy working tirelessly to keep Richard’s ill-judged deeds and money-wasting practices concealed from the nation.

This play contains some of my favourite speeches and I thoroughly enjoyed Anne Kavanagh and Daniel Burke’s delivery of the “This sceptred isle” and “Let’s talk of graves”. Some of the other scenes work less well. It must always prove difficult to decide how to stage a play in this unconventional yet wonderful venue. In this production, the action is split between a main stage and a smaller stage set right amongst the audience. A few of the audience members thus needed to crane their necks to see the action and from my seat, I was somewhat blinded by the light and longing for the action to return to the main stage.

A fantastic play has been given new life with this fabulous production. I might go again and sit in a different seat.

4 stars

Review by Sally Knipe

4 – 25 FEBRUARY 2023
Holy Trinity Church, Guildford

Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted & Directed by Natasha Rickman
Set & Costume Design NEIL IRISH
Assistant Designer/Costume Supervisor ANETT BLACK
Movement Director SUNDEEP SAINI
Musical Director ALEX BEETSCHEN
Production & Company Stage Manager HANNAH WALKER
Deputy Stage Manager LISA COCHRANE
Assistant Stage Manager EL WALDOCK

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