For the first time, a live performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford on Avon, was filmed and shown in cinemas worldwide on Nov 13. The play, a favourite of the RSC’s new director, Greg Doran, was Richard ll with David Tennant in the lead.
It’s a play in which the long speech figures big time. Most of the speeches are about England – its greatness, its magic, its heroic nature. When the speeches are finished, everyone gets back to the business of killing each other. Those they don’t kill, they betray.
It’s a marvellous production with a wonderful set enhanced by an ingenious system of lighting – all explained to us, on screen during the interval, by lighting designer Tim Mitchell.
Shakespeare knew how to end a play, the final moments often handed to the director on a plate. In this play, Richard is deposed by his enemy Bolingbroke, incarcerated in a cellar and finally killed by those he had trusted. Thus Doran has Bolingbroke – in an attempt to portray himself as a good guy really – speaking his last lines: “I’ll make a voyage to the Holy Land, to wash this blood from off my guilty hand…” as the saintly figure of Richard ll appears aloft, clad in a white gown. It’d make your heart bleed and that’s what Shakespeare is good at.
Walking home, I thought of the playwright’s take on politics and decided that the only safe position to hold must have been one of cynicism – especially in the turbulence of Tudor times.
Those speeches reminded me of former British politician Jonathan Aitken who, when his corruption was about to be uncovered by the Guardian newspaper, tried to scare off the press with the following speech: ” If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight.”
You have to laugh. When it comes to blatant tub-thumping, that little speech it’s up there with some of the patriotic speeches in Richard ll.
Shakespeare had a handle on politics and we can learn from him: view most politicians with a degree of cynicism and you won’t be disheartened when you find it was all lies.
Aitken, by the way, was found guilty and sent to prison.