Seems very few theatre companies, anywhere in the world, present Shakespeare the way audiences would have enjoyed it back in the day – openair theatre, local white men, period costumes, a touch of cholera. Nowadays there’s got to be a hook – Othello in a submarine, post-apocalyptic Tempest, change the Merry Wives of Windsor’s nams to Kate and Meghan, let’s get Baz and set this Romeo joint in Miami!
The Globe production of Richard II, on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse through April 21st, has taken a few teensy liberties in the casting, and boy do they pack a punch. One of Shakespeare’s four “history plays,” the cast is solely women of colour, and the fantastic direction and production by Lynette Linton and Adjoa Andoh let that statement do all of the necessary talking.
As always, for best enjoyment, have a quick review of the plot of these history plays before heading to the (so gorgeous) Wanamaker theatre. To recap: Richard II tells the tale of the fall of the last of the Plantagenet Kings, the wasteful and distracted Dick 2 (played by co-director Adjoa Andoh), and his replacement by the first Lancaster king, his cousin Henry IV (aka Henry Bolingbroke, here portrayed by Sarah Niles) with whom there has been bad blood and awkward family holidays. Deception, imprisonment and possibly murder ensue.
Richard II – historic politics for today
You’ll quickly forget anyone’s gender and just lean in. Andoh brings gravitas to the frustrating king – and her imperious glares will wilt anyone foolish enough to go up against Richard. Niles is a worthy adversary, though, and in the role of an actual historical female, Leila Farzad is fiesty as Richard’s Queen (no first name given, or needed). There’s not a bum note in the cast, and they all glow in the unique lighting of the site, and the golden production design by Rajha Shakiry – opulence you will dream about.
You can compare the politics on display here to any of the many global power struggles of the past or happening in front of us today, but, ugh, maybe take the night off and slip back into life before the War of the Roses. With an all female cast, this is a unique chance to see a different take on what might have happened if “(Girls) Ran the 14th Century English World”.
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photo credit: Ingrid Pollard
A former ABC National, Dallas and Atlanta radio personality, Martina O'Boyle is now making movies and covering culture in London, Dublin, and as far in Europe as the cheapie flights will take her, for Pop Culture Beast.