Set play

21st April 2000 at 01:00
Richard II. Almeida Theatre at the Gainsborough Studios.

The old film studios where Alfred Hitchcock once lolled in his director's chair make a spectacular backdrop for this production, dressed and sounding medieval and featuring two film stars, Ralph Fiennes as the petulant king and Linus Roache as his rival, Bolingbroke.

Jonathan Kent has set his production in a wide space, the stage covered partially in turf, recalling the play's metaphor of England as a garden in need of tending. A vast fissure, a reminder of the divisions in the nation, divides the back wall through which Richard makes his entrance, held aloft on a white throne. He is dressed in flowing white throughout, always self-aware, playing the king, acting a part Fiennes is charismatic, revelling in being the production's focal point, tipping his face to the spotlights.

Roache seems young for the part of the new Henry IV and an insufficient challenge to the king, who is so much the spoilt child in the early scenes that he pokes his tongue out at the aged John of Gaunt (David Burke). He achieves a kingly dignity, bereft of crown and robes, at his death in prison.

Students dubious about Shakespeare could well be converted by this production, which is as visually exciting as any film, but the complexities of plot and character will need to be brought out in lessons. Coriolanus joins the repertory on June 1.

Tickets: 020 7359 4404.

Heather Neill with Carolyn O'Grady.


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