After completing an inordinately long online RSC online survey about how much I enjoyed the live cinema broadcast of David Tennant's RIchard II, I barely have the energy to blog about it. Okay, filling out the survey was my choice, so I only have myself to blame.
Rating DT on a scale of one to five, I'm sure that most people will unhesitatingly give him a straight fiver. He's a really accomplished actor, but I think RSC boss Greg Doran, in his excellent pre-show interview with Suzy Klein, correctly summed up what makes Tennant different: he's always totally contemporary. Whatever part he's playing, Tennant is always in in the early 21st century. This gives him an easy access to the audience, but I wonder if it's also a sign of a limited range. Shakespeare is indeed our contemporary, but he also leads us into the strange world of the past, and I'm not sure if Tennant is capable of taking us there, whatever his experience of television time-travelling. Dr Who is always himself, whatever century or universe he's travelling in, and that's his USP. Much the same can be said of Tennant. There's always a very 21st century twinkle in his eye, a raised eyebrow, a suppressed smirk, a slight snarkiness. This is a man who inhabits our world. But it's hard to combine this quality and still plausibly suggest a man convinced of his own status as God's anointed ruler.
I never saw Tennant's early RSC performances, but I do remember him more than a decade ago, long before he became famous, playing a New York security guard at the Donmar in an American play called Lobby Hero. And he was excellent. In 2008 I found his Stratford Hamlet for the RSC (also directed by Greg Doran) a little one-dimensional. Lots of sardonic humour, but lacking in the real tragic dimension of the role. His Richard II is also sardonic and humorous, but more arrogant than Hamlet. Tennant, wearing a long, very female wig that covers his shoulders, generates moments of real tragic pathos at the end of the play, and his quirkiness is just right for a king who can't quite make up his mind whether to abdicate or not. But for me, his performance falls short of John Heffernan's Richard at the Bristol Tobacco Factory in 2011.
That said, Doran's production is terrific, and generates some wonderful cameo performances from veterans Jane Lapotaire, Michael Pennington and Oliver Ford Davies. The latter was born to play the dithering Duke of York. This is where I really appreciated the cinematic closeups, which conveyed the Duke's jelly-like uncertainties in a way that would be impossible in a big theatre, except to the lucky few at the front of the stalls. Richard is such an eloquent character as the protagonist that the man who defeats him, Bolingbroke, is often pushed into the wings. Without the eloquence of Richard, he has to rely on physical presence to make his mark. Nigel Lindsay is a dominating and powerful Bolingbroke, who also has moments of uncertainty and doubt.
Yes, I would tick the box for another RSC live broadcast. I like going to Stratford to see the RSC, especially when Doran is directing. I also like the RSC's occasional visits to London, and I'm glad they're returning to the Barbican with Richard II, giving a bigger audience a chance to see this production. But I'm equally glad I had the chance to see this successful live broadcast in the cinema, and I'll be back next time.
I think that answers all the questions.