Review: Richard II

Donmar Warehouse *****

We meet Richard II in silent contemplation. The space is thick with incense, golden lit by candles in the cloisters where he sits enthroned, centre stage. It is one of a series of single snapshots illustrating the king’s state of mind in Michael Grandage’s thrilling and highly emotional last production as Artistic Director of The Donmar Warehouse.

As Richard II, Eddie Redmayne is a revelation: petulant, childlike, fragile, cunning and emotive, he is nonetheless deeply likeable. He manages without appearing camp, kitsch or over-dramatic – although he is all three in part – to demonstrate through tone and movement the king’s journey from slippery and thieving to humiliated and humbled.

When, blessed with hindsight, he minutely examines his journey to incarceration, it is deeply moving. The exiled Bolingbroke – wonderful Andrew Buchan who was last capturing hearts in The Man Who Had All the Luck - has rightly returned to claim his inheritance, the support of the people and the crown of England; but Redmayne is so sympathetic one yearns for him to be given a second chance.

As his queen, Pippa Bennett-Warner is deeply moving and Sian Thomas is glorious as both Duchess of Gloucester and Duchess of York. Ron Cook as Duke of York portrays both strength and weakness elegantly.

Redmayne shimmers in elegantly cut rich silks while his kinsmen, allies and detractors are presented in rustic relief - the landowning classes whose riches he is plundering, men of salt and the earth in a wattle and daub rough-hewn palate. Every scene is visually sumptuous, and Adam Cork’s choral soundtrack is like blood flowing through the action, a vital but unacknowledged flow.

This Richard II is a feast for the senses at every level and a wonderful reminder of how well Grandage has developed the Donmar in his nine years of office.