2013 Company Profiles
James has been on the Board of Directors since July 2008. He is Regional Director for Arts & Business South West.
Richard II 2011
L to R: John Heffernan; Benjamin Whitrow; Roland Oliver & Julia Hills; John Heffernan; Matthew Thomas
L to R: Paul Currier; Julia Hills & Roland Oliver; John Heffernan; David Collins, Richard Neale & Gareth Kennerley
Richard II is one of the first of Shakespeare’s plays that I grew to know well and was, in part, responsible for my love of Shakespeare’s theatre and my desire to be an actor. I was entranced by the language which I longed to be allowed to stand on a stage and speak out. I was also seduced by a notion of medieval England that seemed so much more delightful and colourful than the industrial Lancashire of my childhood, still embraced by post war austerity. I don’t recall being taught that the Black Death and the grinding poverty, high taxation and civil unrest that followed it, were the real context to the reign of a profligate and misguided king.
Shakespeare as the author of a great pageant of English history is a colossal misreading of his work, in which I know I was not alone. As histories the plays are utterly unreliable, but accuracy was never Shakespeare’s purpose. Just as in minor novellas by long-forgotten authors he found the seeds of great plays about justice, love, and jealousy, so in the chronicles of Holinshed, Hall, Froissart and others he found human conflicts that fired his imagination and illuminated themes that he would pursue throughout his career.
It is for this reason that I have no hesitation in offering you Richard II as a single play. Yes, it is the first of a tetralogy (completed by the two parts of Henry IV, and Henry V); and yes, its events lay the seeds of the Wars of the Roses that would bleed England for the greater part of a century. But as a drama it stands quite alone, exploring notions of selfhood and identity that Shakespeare will revisit again and again. The greatest of all creators of roles, he remains one of the greatest analysts of our need to play them.
Richard II John Heffernan
Gaunt & 1st Gardener Benjamin Whitrow
York Roland Oliver
Aumerle Oliver Millingham
Northumberland John Cording
Scroope Doron Davidson
Mowbray & Carlisle Paul Currier
Bullingbrook Matthew Thomas
Green Gareth Kennerley
Bushy & Abbott David Collins
York’s Servant & Soldier Craig Fuller
Bagot Richard Neale
Glendower & Exton Paul Brendan
Ross & Fitzwater Dan Winter
Willoughby & Surrey Alan Coveney
Harry Percy Jack Bannell
Duchesses of Gloucester & York Julia Hills
Queen Isabel Ffion Jolly
Lady Kate Kordel
Herald & The Groom Roddy Peters
Director Andrew Hilton
Assistant Director Edward Stambollouian (BOVTS attachment)
Set & Costume Designer Harriet de Winton
Costume Supervisor Rosalind Marshall
Composer & Sound Designer Elizabeth Purnell
Edition & Associate Director Dominic Power
Lighting Designer Matthew Graham
Fight Director Peter Clifford
Production Photographer Graham Burke
Production Manager Chris Bagust
Company & Stage Manager Polly Meech
Stage Managers Eleanor Dixon & Andy Guard
Costume Maker & Maintenance Lauren Macaulay
Costume Assistant Bianca Ward
Costume Laundry Kim Winter
Scenic Construction Andrew Powell
Scenic Art Simon Farrell
L to R: Oliver Millingham & Alan Coveney; Ffion Jolly & Kate Kordel; John Cording & Jack Bannell
All production photographs © Graham Burke 2011
The Sunday Times
27th February 2011
Enter the king: young and nervy, arrogant but insecure. Power is exciting but slippery, so you must watch yourself - it’s like a game, but you haven’t quite grasped the rules. John Heffernan plays Richard with sparkling intelligence and delicate feeling. This is a political tragedy of misused power and wasted ambition, of a ruler who is most obsessed by his own feelings and watches himself playing his roles like a fretful actor. This is Shakespeare at his most subtle and most ruthless, dissecting the price of power, of honesty and dishonesty. Matthew Thomas is a powerful Bullingbrooke, cool and shrewd, destroying his cousin Richard with a blend of sadness and impatience, and Roland Oliver’s Duke of York is a masterclass in how to combine shrewd diplomacy, rueful compromise, anger and avuncular humour. Andrew Hilton’s production is lucid and gripping, and the company acting could show a thing or two to some of our distinguished directors. John Peter
20th February 2011
It rings out clearly as an early stab at Hamlet. It also declares war on a rotten England, a land nibbled away by – it’s an ever useful description – the "caterpillars of the commonwealth". Andrew Hilton’s finely tuned production of Richard II goes to the heart of Shakespeare’s play, and proves yet again how hard it is to have a bad time at the Tobacco Factory, where a small space becomes the arena for an epic, and the only concept is the uncovering of the dramatist’s words.
In no other play of Shakespeare’s is the audience encouraged to move so decisively from disdain to sympathy; at Bristol, where the spectators enclose the stage, it is as if they first challenge and later shelter the king. Richard is always fluid, sometimes vaporous; he starts as a wastrel and ends depleted: "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me." John Heffernan captures this with his high volatility: he begins with the snickering camp and perpetually flared upper lip of the playboy: he dances on to his throne and sits curled around himself like an ironic question mark. Later, he speaks the famous lines about the death of kings in a murmur, but with absolute incisiveness. When he first appears defeated, in shift and bare feet, he looks like a male Ophelia. In Shakespeare, women are driven mad when they are cheated of love, men when they are deprived of power.
Hilton shifts scale and mood by simple devices: the shadow of a lattice window falls on the floor; the bench in Richard’s prison cell is bleached of colour; the king’s isolation is caught in an opening tableau in which courtiers and plotters bow low in craven, raven black, while Richard in cream-coloured gown looks like a tallow candle.
Jack Bannell’s Harry Percy is light and fiery and Matthew Thomas’s Bullingbrooke convincingly heavy with irritation; as the Duchess of Gloucester, Julia Hills gives in one speech – and a pressing of her hand to her forehead – a vivid sketch not only of grief but of age and failing power. Susannah Clapp
The Morning Star
21st February 2011
In the opening salvo of the RSC’s recent eight-play cycle of Shakespeare’s histories, Richard II focused on the ruthless political power play destined to plunge England into a century of bloody destruction. In this production the play is seen in isolation from the cycle and becomes an intensely personal examination of identity, posing questions about the nature of kingship and of the human condition.
This treatment lends itself to director Andrew Hilton’s benchmark style. His concentration on clarity in language and narrative, never allowing quirky directorial interpretation to cloud meaning, gains maximum impact in a play charting the protagonist’s journey from role-playing to reality.
John Hefferman’s Richard switches moods with quicksilver, manic-depressive energy as his hold on self-regarding power is challenged by the determined, pragmatic Henry Bullingbroke. While Richard clings onto words as a vulnerable lifeline in a sea of political action, Matthew Thomas’s Henry seizes his moment. As the bewildered and heart-broken Richard - ever the actor - hands over the crown, they cling together in a moment of mutual human sympathy.
In his usurped royal role, Henry shrewdly balances punishments with pardons for enemies judged respectively as more or less potentially dangerous. He has learned lessons from his vacillating and doomed predecessor.
Hilton’s approach to Shakespeare results in every actor fully inhabiting his or her role, understanding the full weight of every utterance. This throws new light on much anthologised passages. Benjamin Whitrow’s John of Gaunt’s "sceptred isle" speech, rather than the usual patriotic paean, becomes an angry elegy for a lost world. It’s a reminder, like elsewhere in this production, that behind the panoply of politics there are people with all the human frailties we share. Gordon Parsons
23rd February 2011
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Shakespeare’s greatest plays have a knack of being timeless and yet thrillingly topical, too. So it is with Andrew Hilton’s commanding production of Richard II, which opens as repressive regimes are feeling the force of popular revolt in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond. The play asks who will replace deposed despots, and how might that shape history?
It does so here with simple staging and only gentle innovations: Hilton seats the royal party in the middle of the audience, and restores the original spelling of Bullingbrooke. This latter move, reminding us that the name includes Bull and a running, unstoppable stream, chimes with Matthew Thomas’s dynamic performance as the usurper: tough, tenacious and a combative orator – think Ed Balls in medieval battle garb.
Exquisitely pitched against this is John Heffernan’s Richard, played as narcissistic with sudden flinches of cruelty, and the physical antithesis of Bullingbrooke: decadently embellished white robes and a tall, slender superiority that convincingly slips later into crumbled, crushed vulnerability.
As always with Hilton’s Shakespeare productions, the focus is on clarity and fluidity of the language, and it is once again a revelation. Even if you know the play well, there are details you will notice anew here, as power commutes from one man to the other: Richard, about to hand the crown over and distressed, saying "Aye, aye" and then "I" for the first time, having lost the royal "We". There are other notable performances, too, such as Benjamin Whitrow’s affecting portrayal of John of Gaunt.
This engaging retelling makes Shakespeare look so easy to stage, and so applicable to our times. Elizabeth Mahoney