So far this year, I’ve been to London to see two versions of Shakespeare’s “Richard II” – first at the Almeida Theatre, and then last weekend at the Sam Wanamaker theatre at the Globe. (I’m also seeing Richard III later in the year, as well as the Globe’s three-plays-in-a-day marathon slog of Henry IV Part One, Henry IV Part Two, and Henry V – by the end of that, I may be somewhat kinged out!)
The Almeida’s production was a modern interpretation, and much-abridged – it had a run time of 1hr 40mins, which was pretty much the same as the first half at the Globe. By comparison, the Globe’s was more traditional in how it was staged and performed, but with a cast entirely of Women of Colour (WOC).
It’s been interesting to compare the two, so I thought I’d write a bit about it here. Obviously all views are my own, and all that jazz. It’s also worth pointing out that I had done my usual thing of going in with no real idea of the story, chronology or characters, which sometimes doesn’t help.
I found the Almeida’s production to be far harder to follow – and primarily that was because of how it was being staged. The entire stage was made into a steel box, with no active exits (there had to be some, for getting on/off the stage at least, but they weren’t used during the actual production) which meant there could be no cleanups, no costume changes, and no scenery changes. That meant it was hard to actually keep track of who was who – and even more so with a reduced cast. As an example, one actor’s first character died off fairly early on, and they then played a different character (and possibly two) but still wearing the blood and costume of the first role – which meant it was pretty hard to follow. Honestly, I’d almost rather have just had the actors wearing placards with names on, in order to explain who they were at any one time.
Additionally, the abridging of the text – and the speed with which it was performed – made it even more confusing, with seemingly more focus on people chucking gloves at each other than the actual plot and actions.
So all told, I didn’t like the production that much – I felt there was too much that got rushed, or that made no sense at all. It was interesting in many ways, but also fairly high on the infamous “Load of old bollocks” scale.
The Wanamaker / Globe version
The production at the Wanamaker was (for me) far preferable. I’ve found I have very few issues with changing roles/stereotypes and doing things differently – particulary with Shakespeare, the story seems to take precedence over who’s doing what, so it doesn’t matter (to me) whether Richard is played by an older white man, or a coloured woman. I know it annoys purists and so on, but I truly don’t feel it matters.
I’d not been to the Wanamaker theatre before, but really liked it – the entire thing is lit by candles (with the exception of the windows ‘out’, which are lit changeably with LEDs, although it’s not intrusive) which makes for an interesting semi-authentic feel. (It also means that there’s a person in the cast/creatives list whose title is “Candle Consultant”, which is pretty special)
The production itself made a lot more sense to me – the cast size is similar (I think there’s one more cast member in the Wanamaker version) but because they’re allowed off-stage to change costumes for the different roles, it was far easier to follow who’s who and so on. Additionally, the extra run-time meant that it didn’t feel rushed, which also helped.
I’m glad I went to see both productions – but in this case I far preferred the more traditional version at the Wanamaker to the modern/short version at the Almeida.