|Ian Richardson, Richard Pasco.
|Ian Richardson, Sebastian Shaw, Richard Pasco.
A long, scholarly, coolly ritualistic, meticulously staged,
and proficiently acted revival in which Richard Pasco and Ian Richardson
alternated in the roles of Richard and Bolingbroke. The production was seen in repertory
with Sylvia Plath by the visiting
Director John Barton’s highly schematic and frequently
symbolic staging was set on a platform at the rear of which, on either side, rose
steep, parallel staircases (likened by several writers to escalators). Between
them was a curving platform that rode up and down according to need. Throughout,
the motif of parallelism remained dominant. The symmetrical and rigidly precise
movements of individuals and groups reminded Walter Kerr of the formalized
staging presumably used for much pre-Shakespearean drama.
At the beginning, after the company, wearing brown and black
garments, entered in carefully arranged files, an actor held up a gold crown
with a gold mask and mantle attached. Richardson and Pasco each reached for it,
and whoever was to play the king that night received it. The company recited “Long
live the king,” and the play began.
The production was filled with symbolic images and novel
touches. One that disturbed a few critics was having the groom who visits the
king in his prison turn out to be Bolingbroke, thereby further stressing the
men’s shared identity as monarchs. Theatricality in the form of hobby horses
for the battle scenes, amplified echo effects for certain speeches, and masks
and stilts, were used to stress thematic points, in Brechtian fashion.
Edith Oliver saw these as being “politics and rebellion,” and “the role of
kingship.” To Clive Barnes, they were “the dual nature of kingship” and “the
medieval idea of Fortune.”
Oliver was happy to see the play performed with “absolute
clarity,” but was less pleased at the loss of “complexity of character and
emotion,” as well as “excitement and vitality.” The performances were “admirable,”
but left her “untouched.” Barnes and several others bemoaned the plodding pace
and excessive length of the barely cut play, to which some material from Henry IV, Part II had been added. But
Barnes extolled “the literary perspective” gained by the staging. Too many
reviewers found the show cold, didactic, and depersonalized. As John Simon
snapped, “Barton’s production is not merely bad but also pale; Peter Brook