Review: RICHARD LE SEC, Omnibus TheaterScaled down for a company of five actors and a set of matching stools, Anna Coombs’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s play foregrounds its two strongest elements – politics and poetry. Its theme warning of how shifting alliances within a weak state can open the door to a populist new leader, could hardly land much more squarely than it does in 2022. I wasn’t the only one to nodded in appreciation as Shakey dissected how state art succeeded and failed in the 14th century in exactly the same way it does today.

Richard II serves as an ineffectual mediator between two of his nobles, Thomas Moubray and Henry Bolingbroke, and they exercise their right to be judged by battle. Only then does he intercede, exiling Mowbray for life and Bolingbroke for ten years (reduced to six upon seeing his father’s tears – weak, weak, weak). Having made a powerful enemy in Bolingbroke, he gives him cause for mutiny by seizing his inheritance to wage war in Ireland – stupid, stupid, stupid. With the king absent, Bolingbroke returns with an army, pursues a successful rebellion, and forces Richard to surrender the crown – by which time he’s had enough anyway. Henry reigns over England, the fourth of the name.

Daniel Rock is a more assertive and direct Richard than is often the case, speaking in verse but without the endless circumlocutions and obfuscations that infuriate his courtiers so much. He is also significantly less introspective and religious, which makes it less difficult to imagine him as a political leader today. Rock delivers the verse with a lot of sympathy, which is crucial if we’re to see where Richard’s personality lies and understand his fatal reluctance to descend into the dirty world of dealings within his court.

Raheim Menzies, muscle bulging, dominating his king, gives Henry the alpha male physique he needs and captures his unease at simply taking a crown earned by reneging on his oath and on a sea of ​​bloodshed – Henry May be ruthless, but he is not amoral. Lebogang Fisher has an increased role as Aumerle, largely a watcher until his loyalty is tested and he’s forced to take sides in a reworked ending that came a little too quickly. to succeed. Sibusiso Mamba and Courtney Winston play a range of other roles as Richard’s court disintegrates.

John Pfumojena provides Zimbabwean music, which is pleasing to the ear, particularly the singing in close harmony, but lends little more than ornamental pleasure to the production, resistant to integration into narrative and design. The Tangle Theater Company champions Afro-Caribbean artistic excellence – and this touring production indisputably does – but it’s still Shakespeare’s play, the radical rewrite perhaps not as radical as I’ve seen in a Macbeth taking place in 17th century Benin for example. At half past two (a long time for a location like this), odd as it sounds, there might be too much of the original held back if the promise of the premise were to be fully explored.

However, Richard II remains one of Shakespeare’s most enduring plays, on par with Me, Claudius as a parable of the dangers of retaining leaders unwilling or unable to exercise power for the common good. This adaptation takes that message home, but fails to find the potential in its aesthetic derived from roots far from the land that Shakespeare himself never left.

Richard Le Second is at the Omnibus Theater until November 27

Photo: Stuart Martin