Richard II

The Sunday Times, 31 August 1969
By Harold Hobson


THE UNCONTESTED TRIUMPH of the Edinburgh Festival so far has been that of Ian McKellen and the Prospect Theatre Company in their production in the Assembly Hall of Richard II, directed by Richard Cottrell. Cambridge and Guildford already know the splendour of Mr McKellen's deified performance, but Edinburgh is the first capital city to be given the chance of tasting its vast excitement. It has received Mr McKellen, and the production itself, which is all glorious with flamboyant colours of gold and red, with tumult of acclaim. It even saw nothing odd in Paul Hardwick delivering the last words of the ancient, feeble and dying Gaunt in a voice that rivalled the thunder of a tropical storm.

The ineffable presence of God Himself enters into Mr McKellen's Richard. As the Deity takes possession his eyes glaze, the real world vanishes from before him, and the king's petulant tones strengthen into the commanding grandeur of a ritual omnipotence. His hands are raised in a universal benediction, and he spreads around him an atmosphere of celestial remoteness. This grandiose notion of his unique and heavenly magnificence is shattered in an electric cry when he suddenly realises that he, like ordinary men, "needs friends." At this point Mr McKellen almost screams; there is in his voice both rage and anguish, and a huge, disillusioned astonishment as well.

Mr McKellen's sensational performance is brilliantly contrasted with Timothy West's prosaic Bolingbroke. This Bolingbroke regards Richard's histrionics with a cold disapproval; he is like a rationalist frowning at the excesses of a particularly gorgeous High Mass. Robert Eddison's watchful and anxious Duke of York also is admirably played; in fact, the whole production deserves the rapture with which it has been received.

Full Cast List

Piccadilly Marquee 1970


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