Maureen and I have become connoisseurs of filmed plays of late. Worst is the National Theatre, because of the annoyingly patronising introductions by Emma Freud. Best is the Globe Theatre, which trusts us to know how to be playgoers and simply takes us straight into the performance. Somewhere in between is the Royal Shakespeare Company, with their first venture into the form in the shape of Richard II, or, to give it its proper title, The Tragedy of King Richard the Second. We appreciated the fact that we were given a full cast list at the start, complete with photographs, a simple innovation that the other two companies should certainly copy. Suzy Klein made a far better fist of the introduction than La Freud, and her interview with director Gregory Doran managed both to avoid sycophancy and to be genuinely informative. However, she also introduces the Proms on Radio 3, and just as always seems to happen on radio she crashed the start of the performance. I don’t know why announcers seem to imagine that the thing does not begin until the first sound comes from the stage. I also don’t know why they feel the need to tell us in advance what we can see for ourselves, or what the play will tell us in the first few minutes.
In this production, for instance, we open inside a religious building. A coffin stands centre stage, a black-clad widow has thrown herself partly across it. Slowly, various figures come on stage, make obeisance to the coffin and stand back, their body language betokening some tension in the air. These are men, not armed or armoured here, but in sturdy, dark-coloured garments that make you think they are ready for a fight. A pause, then in sweeps King Richard in a long, light, feminine gown and pays no attention to the coffin. And only now does Klein stop telling us that this is the coffin of Gloucester, one of Richard’s many uncles, and that Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, son of John of Gaunt (another uncle) is about to accuse Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, of the murder. I’m sorry, but we don’t need to be told this, all of this information becomes apparent in the next few minutes anyway. We would have lost nothing, missed nothing, if Klein had simply been silent from the moment the camera first picked out the dark coffin on the dark stage, with Jane Lapotaire’s long grey hair fanned across it. Continue reading