Eddie Redmayne in Richard II
(© Johan Persson)
Eddie Redmayne in Richard II
(© Johan Persson)
Michael Grandage's Richard II, his final production at the Donmar Warehouse, is an elegant, polished if rather safe staging of Shakespeare's play, with an intriguing central performance by Tony Award winner Eddie Redmayne.

Visually, it's an incredibly rich affair. Richard Kent's set is gloriously dramatic and striking with its Gothic wooden arches. Incense fogs the air and David Plater's use of light is delicate and painterly.

As the audience enters the auditorium, Redmayne's Richard is already sitting on his throne; straight-spined and majestic, clothed in white and gold: he almost glows. Redmayne's king has a dash of the playboy to him: all that's missing is the flare of flashbulbs. He has surface charm in abundance, but when he steps away from his throne, he ceases to project the same air of regal dignity. He's tantrum-prone and petulant, a man unaccustomed to having things go against his wishes; volatile and easily distracted, he shrugs off the news of John of Gaunt's death in a half-second.

Redmayne has an appealingly naturalistic way with the verse and his boyish quality provides an intriguing contrast to the weight of his role as king. He enjoys playing the part, but understands it is only a part; when he discusses his divine right to rule he seems to be convincing himself of it too.

He also does pathos well; there's an almost childish desperation in the way he clings to his crown when he is eventually usurped by Andrew Buchan's Bolingbroke, realizing what its loss will mean, unable to relinquish his grip. Stripped of his robes and his gleaming, gold breastplate, he's exposed, almost touchingly so. But the performance is a touch too cerebral, even if it succeeds in bringing a contemporary resonance to the play's sometimes archaic concerns.

The ensemble cast is quite strong. Ron Cook brings a degree of levity to his performance as the conflicted Duke of York and Pippa Bennett-Warner makes a passionate, likeable Queen Isabel. Michael Hadley, as John of Gaunt, delivers the play's best known speech with a suitably feverish power, and Buchan's solid, grounded Bolingbroke makes a nice counterpoint to Redmayne's glittering Richard.