For some reason, when the schedules for this Globe season were announced, the idea of an all male Richard II sounded natural. After all, this was how things were done in the playwright's time. It was harder to conceive the impact of the all female Richard III and, still to come, The Taming of the Shrew.
It is a pleasure to be able to report that a violent play about a loathsome man can be cast entirely for women and work perfectly from the first line. The fact that this is delivered by the wonderful Kathryn Hunter, a worthy counterpart to Mark Rylance's Richard II helps no end.
Miss Hunter makes a superbly evil King with a wry sense of humour and her gender is never an issue. Her physical work is the result of six weeks labour under movement coach Glynn MacDonald, and is a real achievement. This Richard is horribly crippled with his right hand and arm twisted and his right foot never landing squarely on the ground. For 3¼ hours Miss Hunter rarely puts a foot wrong. She even remains in character in the Globe's traditional closing dance.
Master of Play (Director) Barry Kyle's strengths are in drawing great speeches from his actors and in creating set-pieces. At various points, the King, Linda Bassett as Queen Margaret, Amanda Harris as Buckingham and Louise Bush as Richmond have chances to shine and all take them.
There are also poignant moments as the murders at Richard's behest mount; with the reported deaths of the two little princes, ideal roles for ladies, particularly sad.
Kyle's vision of Richard's victims attacking his dreams at Bosworth Field is also striking, as the white-clad, bloodied ghosts assail the King while comforting his rival, Richmond.
The doubling of parts in this production does cause some confusion as it is not always quite clear who some of the minor characters are, but with that proviso, this ladies' night is a real success for the Globe and nicely complements the gentlemen in Richard II.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher