Richard II at Bard on the Beach: A Summer Lesson

by Megan Michael Ejack

During Artistic Director Christopher Gaze’s introductory speech at the opening night of Richard II last Thursday, he articulated that this is the first time the play has ever been produced in British Columbia. Hmmmm… perhaps there’s an underlying reason for that.

As the first in a series of Shakespeare’s history plays, that will be produced over the next two to three seasons at Bard on the Beach, Richard II is by far the most difficult, performance-wise, with respect to the density of the text and the scope of the story.  Unlike the types of stories we are used to seeing grace the stage, there is no romance, no “bloody battles” and certainly “no pageantry”, as Director Christopher Weddell states in his program notes.

It is the story of an “unpopular King”, who is resented for his vanity and propensity towards making unfavourable decisions.  Mainly, it is a story of politics and war, and an unusual choice for a lovely summer evening at the beach.

It began with an almost ritualistic flair: with a penetrating soundtrack that lent a profound air of intrigue, and as the sun went down over this solemn performance, I was grateful that Weddell was given such a talented cast with which to work.

With a steady pace, and an impressive grasp of the language, this cast stood strong and stoic within the structure of this incredibly wordy piece; particularly the very talented and long-time veteran of the Vancouver stage, David Marr, as the Duke of York, who surprisingly infused his lines with even hints of humour.

This is a tale of transformation and of examination.  It asks you to question the humanity of people and politics, which, in turn, is not entirely irrelevant in our world today.

The History Series is certainly an important and intelligent departure in the land of Shakespeare study—but is not for the faint of heart, nor the light-hearted theatre-goer.  Know what you’re getting into.  It is a “History Play” after all.

Richard II will be followed next season by Falstaff, which is a condensation of Henry IV, Parts I and II, along with Henry V;  And Lastly, The War of the Roses (a blend of Henry VI, Parts I, II and III, with (my favourite) Richard III, in the 2011 Season.

In the words of the Director:

“I ask you to watch closely, and decide for yourselves.”

Richard II runs at Bard on the Beach until September 18, 2009.

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