David Tennant scores rave reviews as Richard II

The Doctor Who actor follows up his critically acclaimed performance as Hamlet with a "mesmerising" turn as Shakespeare's troubled monarch

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David Tennant may be best known for his roles on-screen – Doctor Who, Broadchurch, to name a few – but he describes his work on stage as his “default way of being”. A good thing, too, given the rave reviews he’s been earning for his latest role as Richard II for the Royal Shakespeare Company – a production that’s already all but sold out.

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Any keen observers will notice the 10th Doctor has been sporting a shaggy mane of late, and images from the stage reveal his camped-up take on Shakespeare’s monarch – a look that won over theatre critics at yesterday’s press night. Here’s what they had to say… 

Peter Billingham in The Guardian describes Tennant’s performance as “mesmerising” with his “brocade gown and Christ-like hair”. He goes on to state the Scottish actor’s greatest achievement “is to attract our sympathy to what the gardener calls a ‘wasteful king’ who abuses power when he has it and who achieves tragic dignity only in his downfall.”

Writing in The Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish is another to pay special attention to the 42-year-old’s appearance: “His hair takes some getting used to: great gingery-brown extensions trail girlishly downwards. Long, magisterial, quasi-medieval robes add to the effeminate impression.”

Awarding the play four stars, he writes, “The evening is always lucid but only truly crystalises as things fall apart. Richard spasms with panic as he grasps the frailty of existence, crawling on the floor in abjection. He’s appealingly sardonic as he bows in exaggeration before his usurper, and at the end, having taken on the aspect of Christ, he appears aloft on a gantry, looking down in beatific accusation as Bolingbroke contemplates the blood on his hands. Tennant shines, but he has shone brighter.”

Dominic Maxwell in The Times writes, “So regularly do we root for Tennant as the heroic outsider, whether in Doctor Who or Broadchurch or even in his RSC Hamlet, that it’s odd to see him back a losing horse.” 

But while his character may be on the brink, Tennant’s portrayal is termed “electrifying”. Maxwell writes, “what Tennant does, brilliantly, is to suggest a man who feels as hollow as his crown. Who play acts at being himself. Who makes bad judgments, such as expelling his cousin Bolingbroke, soon to become Henry IV, that are a weak man’s idea of being strong.”

The Independent‘s Paul Taylor offers another four-star review, calling the play a “palpable hit” and commending a supporting cast made up of Nigel Lindsay, Oliver Rix, Michael Pennington and Oliver Ford Davies. He reserves high praise for “splendid” Tennnant, who he praises for, “Admirably resisting any temptation to make the king likeable,” and “vividly exud[ing] the bored irritability that erupts in tyrannical caprice.”  

Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail calls Richard II a “wondrous spectacle” but can’t help but balk at Tennant’s appearance: “there is no getting away from the fact that in the centre of the show is that astonishing hairdo worn by David Tennant’s nail-varnished Richard. Is he meant to be Russell Brand? Frank Gallagher in TV’s Shameless?”

But that doesn’t detract from the five-star review of “a definitive production of a great play”, although he does has some quibbles with Tennant’s performance and director Gregory Doran. “Mr Tennant is good, very good, but not yet a great. His performance lacks the final five yards of nobility,” he writes. “You get the feeling that Mr Doran has reined him in, yet once or twice the character of D. Tennant escapes that of Richard of Bordeaux.”

There are no such qualms for the Evening Standard‘s Henry Hitchings who writes, “Tennant does not disappoint. He delivers a vivid, intelligent performance, at least as mesmerising as the best of his TV work. He is certainly not afraid to make Richard dislikable. Instead of the poetic soul we tend to see, his Richard is irritable. In the early scenes he is petulant and smug.”

And finally, Meriel Patrick in What’s On Stage is yet another to reserve the highest praise for the leading man. “Tennant’s portrayal of the eponymous king proves – if further proof were needed – that he has a range that extends far beyond Doctor Who and comic roles. His Richard is a slight, almost girlish figure, but though he may be effete, capricious, and inclined to become sulky if he doesn’t get his own way, he’s neither weak nor shallow. There’s a steelier layer below the surface, and real human vulnerability and affection under that, and Tennant shows us all this and more over the course of the evening.

“It would be perilously easy for the character to be unlikeable, but he isn’t: exasperating, perhaps, and sometimes even annoying, but Tennant does a masterful job of keeping him constantly sympathetic.”

Richard II is in Stratford-upon-Avon from 17 October to 16 November 2013 before transferring to the Barbican Theatre in London on 9 December for a seven-week run. The production will be broadcast to cinemas worldwide on 13 November 2013.

 


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