This Blessed Plot. This Earth. This Realm. This England.
And what an England we stumble into. Creeping vines linger over the font of the beautifully desolate St Martin cum Gregory’s Church, derelict undergrowth is woven into the actual green grass on the ground, anti- fracking signs are discarded in the wildness and the leaves are turning crisp and dying, all in that which has become Richard II‘s Kingdom. The impact of this stunning set immediately transports the outside inside quite magically and lays the foundations for a sunny, yet, overcast garden where weeds are being plucked and blood is being spilt.
Bronzehead Theatre’s Director Tom Straszewski dives into Richard II, played strikingly by Mark Burghagen, and the King’s struggle to keep his throne and control over his Kinsmen. Meanwhile his cousin Henry Bolingbroke’s power grows steadily and with that his strength to usurp the crown and England with it. Bolingbroke is portrayed excellently by the captivating Amy Millns, who takes on the role with such energy and passion that gender becomes irrelevant. This not so rosy garden of England, sees conspiracy and lies feeding its grounds, as the common subjects, decked out as Gardeners, plot their revenge and plant the seeds for murder.
The cast is truly superb and there is almost an ensemble feel about their unity.
The cast is truly superb and there is almost an ensemble feel about their unity. Old John Of Gaunt, played by Mick Liversidge delivers a patriotic and powerful monologue about England’s downfall at the hands of King Richard, Richard Easterbrook’s Duke Of York leaves the audience conflicted in his moral dilemmas and loyalty. Geraldine Bell offers a lovely variety of characters, including the matriarchal Duchess of York, whose flattery and decadence personifies the bamboozling energy of a confused society that is desperately trying to pick their side for the fights to come. Elizabeth Cooke gives an unwavering performance as the naive Aumerle, as well as the brutish Willoughby. A poignant and clever scene shows Willoughby beheading the “traitors” Green and Bushy with spades against an upturned wheel barrow; a lovely reference to the garden theme and Shakespeare’s vivid language. This example of attention to detail is of the highest standard, something Straszewski does beautifully. The production enchants and frequently reminds you just how wonderful Shakespeare’s plays are – this being one of the highlights of the York Shakespeare scene for a long time.
Gentle lulling music intermittently offers melancholy and suggests a summer breeze in the backdrop and Stephanie Hill does a lovely job of leading this; as do the cast in one particularly haunting number where the words ‘watering the land with our rare blood’ rings powerfully around the walls of the Church. High praise must go to Burghagen who takes on the foolish but tragic Richard II with pure gusto and moving vulnerability. Bronzehead have truly taken a classic and made it their own and it is this boldness and the company’s obvious love for the story that makes you forget at times you are watching a play – and a history at that. Full of symbolic and clever moments that keep you constantly enthralled, powerful believable performances and a backdrop that is so enchanting, you honestly won’t want to miss this production. You can catch Richard II at various locations in Yorkshire July 15-19Bronzehead Theatre