We Are Animate
Jack Studio Theatre
It is a tragedy that Richard II's story of governance by an unfit, out of touch ruler is relevant somewhere on the globe at any given time.
Right now, the finger could point in any number of directions but We Are Animate's trimmed-down production at The Jack needs no signals as to time or place as we see the leader in party mode as his control unravels. And it does not take a genius to draw contemporary parallels with Richard appropriating Bolingbroke's inheritance and using over-taxed citizens' money to prop up his ill-judged schemes.
In paring down the text, we see only a flawed Richard, a character of majesty but without nobility, and it is credit to Michael Rivers's performance that there is a vestige of sympathy when he meets his early demise, here at the hands of turncoat Aumerle, at the behest of Bolingbroke, monarch-in-waiting.
Similarly, Bolingbroke is a less complex character and presents as someone driven to usurp the throne much more by vengeance for his stolen legacy than out of patriotism. The play ends on Richard's murder and the Bolingbroke who will soon wear the crown doesn’t show promise of being better that its previous owner.
Directed by Lewis Brown, Nada Babikir's Queen Isabel is a wine-swigging footballer's wife who out-petulants even Rivers's pouting Richard.
Brown has courtiers stroke the sulking monarch's back in fawning sycophancy, whilst Lizzy Dive's York stands out as a more considered voice. Her clear delivery gives York a dignity and his allegiance to the new king is more akin to a civil servant attending the officeholder, than to plain self-seeking treachery.
The production notes talk of exploring the power and strength of femininity, but it takes more than some cross-casting to express this approach, and perhaps there is too little text to exploit for the purpose in this 80-minute, one-act version of the play.
It remains, however, a salutary reading of the story of a showman who behaves as if he has a divine right to lead.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti