THEATRE REVIEW Richard II
DONMAR THEATRE, LONDON Richard came to the throne when he was 10. Eddie Redmayne, very boyish, very young, with a weak nervous smile, making little jokes, and very anxious to please, looks as if he is still in sixth form. His Richard desperately wants to believe he is king by divine right but, deep down, he knows he is only a mockery king of snow. Self-absorbed, superficial, impulsive, he is totally in love with the pomp and ritual of kingship, but totally out of his depth when it comes to the politics. Shakespeare shows a shooting star in freefall and has given him some thrilling arias, which, have been incomparably delivered by John Gielgud, the definitive tragic poet-king, in his recording, Ages of Man.
Redmayne is a very good actor. You may have seen him at the Donmar in John Logan’s Red (in which he played the painter Mark Rothko’s assistant) or, perhaps more recently, as the young man, Colin Clark, in the film My Week with Marilyn. In Richard II he is at his most impressive in his overwhelming grief and in the great abdication scene at Westminster when he constantly embarrasses Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) in the most theatrical manner, refusing to make it easy for him. Designer Richard Kent provides an imposing wooden Gothic backdrop and there are fine performances by Michael Hadley as John of Gaunt, particularly striking in his patriotic tirade, and by Philip Joseph as the Bishop of Carlisle who, in the play’s most electrifying prophecy, predicts that the Wars of the Roses will devastate the nation for years to come. This production, sadly, marks the departure of Michael Grandage as artistic director of the Donmar Theatre. During the last nine years he has provided theatregoers with so many excellent productions in a very wide range of plays and musicals, classical and modern, embracing British, European and American playwrights: Shakespeare, Schiller, Chekhov, Ibsen, Sondheim, Pirandello, Camus, Strindberg, etc. He will be sorely missed and a hard act to follow. The Ladykillers
Filmgoers did not take kindly to the dreadful American remake by the Coen Brothers in 2004, starring Tom Hanks. What are they going to make of Graham Lineham’s stage adaptation? William Rose’s black comedy, directed by Alexander Mackendrick, was one of a much-loved quartet of Ealing comedies in the 1950s, which included Pass port to Pimlico, Whisky Galore and Kind Hearts and Coronets. The ladykillers were an incompetent gang of crooks who set up headquarters in an elderly widow’s quaint little house in St Pancras, masquerading as an amateur string quartet. Alec Guinness played a mad professor; he looked like Kenneth Tynan and sounded like Alistair Sim. Sean Foley’s slapstick production, which is sufficiently similar to the original, yet sufficiently different, isn’t a complete success; but it has some amusing things. The lopsided house, for instance, wittily designed by Michael Taylor, is a character in its own right and as gaga as its owner, who is played by the scene-stealing, subtly comic Marcia Warren. The cast includes Peter Capaldi as the mad professor, Clive Rowe as a moronic ex-heavyweight, Stephen Wight as a pillpopping lad, James Fleet as a major who enjoys getting into drag and Ben Miller as a murderer who is frightened of old ladies. The high spot is when the gang is forced to entertain a group of little old ladies to a concert and produce an epic cacophony.
Conor McPherson, who has written a number of alcoholfuelled monologues, has been quoted as saying that death is the only thing worth writing about. This concentrated and cheerless 80minute confession of paternal guilt, set in a funeral parlour on Christmas Eve, is not one of his most riveting scripts. Gary Lydon plays the lonely, middle-aged Irish undertaker (a life destroyed by hard drinking) who learns from his daughter, whom he has not seen in 10 years, that his estranged wife is dying in hospital and wants to see him. The chances of redemption seem highly unlikely.