Thursday, December 31, 2020

426. RICHARD II. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Ian Richardson, Richard Pasco.
RICHARD II [Dramatic Revival] A: William Shakespeare; D: John Barton; DS: Timothy O’Brien, Tazeena Firth; L: David Hersey; M: James Walker; P: Brooklyn Academy of Music i/a/w Brooklyn College, presented by the Governors of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the Royal Shakespeare Company Production; T: Brooklyn Academy of Music; 1/9/74-1/27/74 (22)

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 RSC.

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 without balls.”