Over the next two years the Royal Shakespeare Company will anatomise England. It will perform all eight of Shakespeare's histories that portray the troubled consequences of the overthrow of Richard II. Steven Pimlott's excellent staging of the first play gives the enterprise a soaring lift-off.
There is a welcome freshness in every aspect of Pimlott's modern-dress production. The modernity often surprises, but always illuminates England's condition. The minor lords are recognisably contemporary politicians on the make, flattering their leaders, jeering opposing factions. Northumberland is a smooth, pinstripe-suited bureaucrat, coldly exploiting events
Both main parts are superbly played. Sam West admirably catches each of Richard's moods, and throws new light on many lines. "The base court" is an ironically amused comment rather than the conventional operatic aria. David Troughton charts Bolingbroke's progress from ramrod-backed loyalist, through political opportunist, to careworn monarch.
Pimlott's master-stroke is to cast the audience as England, directly appealed to by every character. In one splendid moment (and with a little juggling of the text), Troughton's Bolingbroke makes the audience stand to grieve at the news of Mowbray's death. This is a landmark production. Go!
Tickets: 01789 403403. Rex Gibson.