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July 20, 2009 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

Richard II


One of the great things about staging a production as part of the Victoria University Theatre Programme is that it allows the opportunity to experiment with things not always appropriate in a professional production, as the emphasis is on the educational experience, for both the company and the audience rather than necessarily on the finished product. That’s not to say however, that this, or other productions, are not of quality, but that we might consider the choices made in producing them in a different light.

The New Zealand premiere of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known history plays, Richard II was transported from a court setting to a circus tent, giving me the feeling that I was watching two plays, with the common theme of threatened leadership. To me, this combination of two stories revealed nothing new about Shakespeare’s play, but it did make for a surprising performance that was intriguing to watch and provided a fresh setting in which to explore the complexities of the characters.

Simon Haren, as Richard, and Ailsa Krefft as Bolingbroke, strongly lead the cast, who must all be commended for their commitment to their characters as well as their musical talents and acrobatic skills. Haren’s portrayal of Richard is unsettling and instilled nervousness in me from the beginning that allowed me to empathise with the threat that he clearly felt. He is stripped down to his most vulnerable in a white leotard, and next to the imposing matriarchal lion tamer Bolingbroke, stands little chance of survival.

What the circus theme offered most prominently was a design aesthetic that created interesting stage pictures: one of the most lasting images for me is that of Richard imprisoned with his ankles fastened to a giant swing—the centre stage piece that he earlier swung on so proudly. It’s a play that could run the risk of being too heavy, but the dedicated cast and production team bring to life the dark secrets and intrigues of this story in an original and intense style, that keeps the audience awake and attentive, if for no other reason than that we cannot predict where this is going to go, in this new and dangerous space.

Richard II
Directed by David O’Donnell and Rachel Lenart
VUW Theatre Programme
2–6 June 2009


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