Barker’s play is extraordinary, especially given that it was written over a century ago and revised by him in the late 20’s, the original having been banned from performance. The notions and complex philosophies which underline the narrative are as fresh, vital and important now as then. The need to invest in the future, to educate the young properly. The hopelessness of political cabals. The marginalisation of women. Double-standards in public life. The dirty compromises of party politics. The terror a true rebel with a proper cause can create in the complacent and borne to rule.
The result here is that this is more the Comedy of Richard II than the Tragedy of Richard II. There is an unseemly pursuit of laughter – characterisations are extreme, language is tossed aside in favour of quick laughs and the deeper, darker side of text and situation is left largely unconsidered. This is not to say that production is not entertaining – it is – but it is not a production which seeks to achieve anything in particular or which attempts to enliven or illuminate. In rather the same way as an accomplished school performance can leave you satisfied, so too does this production. It’s a great introductory point; if this is your first taste of Shakespeare, you won’t be disappointed. But if you come looking for insight or new perspectives, you will find none.