Richard II

Tue 8th – Sat 12th March 2016

reviews

Alina Antonova

at 09:56 on 9th Mar 2016

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Before we begin, I must make a confession. The only other production of Richard II I have seen was the Globe's highly acclaimed show with Charles Edwards in the title role. Besides, being an English student, I have studied the play’s text in much detail. Needless to say, my expectations bar was set quite (perhaps unrealistically) high as I headed to see The Marlowe Society’s latest offering. Thankfully, students of one of Cambridge's most prestigious drama societies did not disappoint this time, honoring the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death with a fantastic performance.

Alice Attlee and Eva O’Flynn responsible for the production design achieved truly breath-taking results. The luminously spacious, golden-tinged candlelit set of the 1677 Emmanuel Chapel appeared both austere and regal, providing a fit venue for a play tackling the subjects of the Medieval belief in the Divine Rights of Kings and God’s punishment for regicide. The only piece of stage furniture – a gorgeous golden throne framed with thorns – was very cleverly positioned by the altar, whilst battlefield banners and marital camp tents set in the corners disturbed the peaceful and lavish courtly ensemble foreshadowing the coming war. The acting space was very well utilized with the organ balcony acting as Richard’s castle and his last stronghold. The specter of the disgraced king overlooking the battlefields and the audience beneath was one of the most visually striking moments of this show. My only criticism would be the complete negligence of any lighting effects with harsh electric main lights unchanged throughout the performance. The live interval music and lightening could definitely be used more efficiently to amplify the pathos of the play’s particularly tense and tragic moments.

The stunning, if not entirely historically accurate, costumes designed by Matilda Wickham , Sophia Flohr, Stephanie McMorran and Amanda Karlsson, demonstrated regal splendor and baroque variety of richly draped materials raging from silk, fur and velvet to simple cotton. With so many of Shakespeare’s plays staged as modern adaptations, it is surprisingly refreshing to see an attempt at costume historicity, however partially successful.

Lucy Moss’s choreography provided a comic relief with the opening courtly dance immediately grabbing attention of the audience and causing many a smile. An interesting choreographic decision was to leave the cast dancing and pacing barefoot on the stone floor. This proved somewhat dangerous when Bea Svistunenko playing Richard II furiously dropped a small mirror, which shattered into many shards. However, the same absence of shoes was also very effective during the assassination scene as the killers proceeded with swift and silent steps.

The all-female cast delivered a sound, but uneven performance with a varying degree of success. Disappointingly, Bea Svistunenko’s acting as Richard II in the first half of the play seemed monotonous and strangely artificial with a saccharine smile never leaving the monarch’s face regardless of the circumstances. However, the embittered and imprisoned Richard of the second half was a truly haunting and powerful presence.

Emma Blacklay-Piech portrayed a very convincing old Sir John Gaunt, giving a very mature visceral performance with a labored, aged and decrepit posture and a hoarse, breathy voice. The scene of the sarcastic exchange between the aged Duke of Lancaster and Richard II was one of the most faced-paced and entertaining to watch, keeping the audience at the age of their seats.

Another passionate, albeit small, yet powerful presence on stage was that of Katurah Morrish as insulted and honourable Sir Thomas Mowbray. Enraged and ready to fight in a duel with Bolingbroke, she radiated immense emotional energy and was a joy to watch. In contrast, Morrish’s second appearance on stage as quiet and tame-tempered Bishop of Carlisle, who was so drastically different to her short-tempered and hot-headed Mowbray, demonstrated an admirable acting versatility.

Visually striking, as historically accurate and true to the original as it is possible for a student drama society, and cleverly staged, The Marlowe Society’s Richard II is a terrific retelling of the bard’s famous historical tragedy and an excellent way to spend an evening.

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