UPDATED: David Tennant's Richard II Opens In Stratford-upon-Avon To Rave Reviews

David Tennant's latest theatre project, Richard II, has opened to rave reviews after it's Press Night at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon last night.

It's a 4 star review from The Times with Dominic Maxwell saying:

He hasn't got a clue has he? You can see that from the moment David Tennant's Richard II arrives on stage with his chin uo, his hair Timotei-long, his robes and his diction refined to the point of self parody. This takes a moment to adjust to. So regularly do we root for Tennant as the heroic outsider, whether in Doctor Who or Broadchurch or even in his RSC Hamlet, that it's odd to see him back a losing horse. 

When he descends from the ceiling on a golden throne, the gap couldn't be clearer between his notion of himself as a God-given ruler and our notion of him as a bit of a berk.

Not that Tennant's performance or Gregory Doran's RSC production turn out to be cartoonish. One of the hottest tickets of the year long before it opened, this is a clear, propulsive, absorbing three hours of a history play that is no cinch to stage. After all, it's in verse. It has no battles. At the first sign of uprising, the belly aching Richard pretty much deposes himself ("Let's talk of graves, of worms, of epitaphs..."). "Richard II is not an action packed drama", understates the introduction to the Penguin edition of the play. 

Here, though, it grips, aided by Paul Englishby's beautiful period music and Stephen Brimson Lewis's spare, guilded sets. And what Tennant does, brilliantly, is to suggest a man who feels as hollow as his crown. Who play acts at being himself. Who makes bad judgments, such as expelling his cousing Bolingbroke, soon to become Henry IV, that are a weak man's idea of being strong. He is hiding his true sexuality too, to judge by his long kiss with his cousin, Oliver Rix's Aumerle. And when he is trounced by Nigel Lindsay's stocky, gym-teacher-like Bolingbroke, he goes from ruler to martyr. he proffers the crown as if holding out a stick to a dog ("Here, cousin!").
It's electrifying.

We don't love him, but we get his grief in a play suffused with a sense of loss. Jane Lapotaire's Duchess of Gloucester mourns her husband and Michael Pennington's John Of Gaunt mourns what Richard has done to England in anguished moments that are both magnificent and a bit hard to absorb so early on. By the second half, though, Doran's production can sell everything from wit to desolation. Near the end, the Yorks, played by Oliver Ford Davies and Marty Cruickshank, row about his turning in their son, Aumerle as a traitor. It's pretty funny. It's also a resonant reminder of how the power play and posturing of politics is no job for amateurs. 

Writing a 4 star review for The Independent Paul Taylor says:

They covered themselves in glory five years ago with Hamlet; now David Tennant and Gregory Doran join forces again for this lucid and gripping account of Richard II. Having played the most intellectually searching of Shakespeare’s protagonists, who is painfully miscast as a revenge hero, Tennant – in splendid form here – trains his talents on the most self-absorbed and inward-looking of the Bard’s monarchs, who is fatally miscast as God’s anointed deputy on earth.
In his gorgeous, gold-embroidered robes (and long, flowing hair extensions, to boot), this Richard is wrapped in the mystique of medieval majesty. But he occupies the Gothic throne with a slouch of disgruntlement, his features congealed in disdain. Admirably resisting any temptation to make the king likeable, Tennant vividly exudes the bored irritability that erupts in tyrannical caprice. And impatience is making him reckless, too. In this production, he brazenly hears the dispute between Bolingbroke and Mowbray at the (interpolated) ceremonial lying-in-state of the Duke of Gloucester, whose murky murder (and, implicitly, Richard’s involvement in it) is itself the bone of contention.
But then Richard is a monarch who would always choose theatrical effect over political prudence. With his great gift for playfulness, Tennant runs heavily sarcastic rings round his usurper in the deposition scene. Holding the crown at arm’s length, and with his back to the assembled company, he calls out “Here cousin”, in the tones of someone inviting a dog to play fetch. This is not a Richard who luxuriates in the lyricism of grief. Tennant delivers the plaintive, self-pitying arias with a scathing irony for the most part, flecked by tiny surrenders to abject panic – as though he were at once sufferer and observer of the tragic process whereby, when the royal persona shatters, it exposes the naked, insecure person underneath. 
By contrast, Nigel Lindsay’s Bolingbroke presents himself as a plain-speaking bloke who has returned from exile solely to claim his rightful inheritance – though there’s a suggestion in his hooded watchfulness and the brutality with which he dispatches Richard’s flatterers that he has a devious, long-term strategy. He plays his cards close to his chest and is embarrassed by Richard, whose upstaging antics leave him having to force face-saving laughter in front of his followers.
Interestingly, though, Doran is more interested in the king’s relationship with his other cousin, the young Aumerle. I should perhaps issue a spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph. This production gives the pair a charged, private sequence on the walls of Flint Castle (evoked by the mobile gantry that slices across Stephen Brimson Lewis’s excellent design). The monarch’s speech of speculative capitulation (“What must the King do now? Must he submit?”) reduces his devoted number one supporter to such heartfelt, quiet tears that Tennant’s Richard is touched to a moment of rare compassion for another creature – treating his cousin to a tenderly passionate kiss and a cradling on his breast. But Aumerle, whose riven emotional state is beautifully conveyed by Oliver Rix, turns into the production’s most extreme casualty of the world of divided loyalties. Shopped to the new king by his own father for his treacherous plots, to what desperate lengths might such a man go to prove that he’s been born again politically? 
There isn’t a weak link in the cast. Ferocious eloquence overcomes deathbed infirmity in Michael Pennington’s superb portrayal of John of Gaunt, and Oliver Ford Davies gives a fine edge of grumpy comedy to the Duke of York’s conscience-stricken dithering. Another palpable hit for the Tennant/Doran collaboration, the production transfers to the Barbican in December and will be broadcast live in cinemas on 13 November.

The Guardian's Michael Billington also gives 4 stars and heaps praise upon the cast and creatives:

This show marks the start of Gregory Doran's six-year plan to present the entire Shakespeare canon. It's fair to say that his own beautifully crafted, richly detailed production sets a high standard for himself and others to aim at. David Tennant, in a mesmerising performance that grows in power as Richard's authority declines, also reminds us that the Royal Shakespeare Company is an ensemble that paradoxically needs stars.
It's a sign of Doran's care that he makes clear the complex back-story that illuminates Shakespeare's play. An audience needs to know that Richard's original sin lies in sanctioning the murder of his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. Michael Boyd began his 2007 production by having Richard stepping lightly over the corpse of the dead duke. Doran, even before Richard's entry, shows us elaborate funeral rites with three sopranos singing religious anthems in the upper galleries and the Duchess of Gloucester bent in grief over her husband's tomb. This is clearly a court steeped in mourning.
The prelude also gives Tennant a vital context in which to work. His Richard, with his brocade gown and Christ-like hair, initially affects an air of listless boredom as his burly barons hurl accusations of treason at each other. But there's a thrilling moment when Tennant gives the banished Mowbray a piercing stare as if daring him to spill the beans about the king's part in Gloucester's murder. Tennant combines inner guilt with a careless disregard for realpolitik as he seizes the land and goods of John of Gaunt after his death: a point reinforced here by the fact that we see tuns of treasure being bodily transported.
Tennant's strengths, as we know from his Hamlet, are a capacity for quicksilver thought and an almost boyish vulnerability. And, even if he might do more to convey the patterned lyricism of the language, what he brings out excellently is the fact that Richard only learns to value kingship after he has lost it. In his decline, Tennant casually tosses the crown away and, at one point, skittishly places it on the head of his adored Aumerle. But in the Westminster deposition scene, where Tennant is at his best, he challenges Bolingbroke to "seize the crown" and, when his rival rises to the bait, immediately inverts it to suggest a falling bucket. Tennant's great achievement is to attract our sympathy to what the gardener calls a "wasteful king" who abuses power when he has it and who achieves tragic dignity only in his downfall.
But this production, which combines period costumes with back-projections in Stephen Brimson Lewis's elegant design, is emphatically no one-man show. Nigel Lindsay's Bolingbroke is a palpably dangerous figure who treats Richard's remission of his initial banishment with surly disdain and openly scorns the deposed king's self-conscious theatricality. It is also good to see a number of RSC veterans operating at top form in key roles.
Oliver Ford Davies is brilliant as the Duke of York in that he highlights both the comedy and pathos of a man torn between ancestral loyalty to the crown and a recognition of Bolingbroke's power. Michael Pennington's John of Gaunt is also a fine study of a dying man bursting with intemperate rage at Richard's betrayal of his country. And Jane Lapotaire turns the Duchess of Gloucester into a silver-haired figure whose widowed grief manifests itself in a burning appetite for revenge.
The packed houses for this production's run in both Stratford and at the Barbican may have much to do with Tennant's star presence. But this is the strongest company the RSC has fielded in years, and what Doran's production brings out is the rich complexity of a play that raises the eternal question of at what point it becomes legitimate to unseat a manifestly flawed ruler. Shakespeare's play may be set in 14th-century England. It remains, however, a timelessly political work.

It's another 4 star review from The Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish:

Five years after his spellbinding Hamlet, David Tennant is back at the RSC and reunited with director (now artistic director) Gregory Doran for Richard II. Last time round there was a lot of hoo-ha about Doctor Who and a box-office frenzy. Maybe there’ll be more of that again, with Tennant joining Matt Smith for the 50th anniversary special next month. But for the moment, a calm air of focus prevails; Tennant, 42, is in his natural element – and day tickets are available.

His hair takes some getting used to: great gingery-brown extensions trail girlishly downwards. Long, magisterial, quasi-medieval robes add to the effeminate impression. In Act III, at Flint Castle, beset by ruin, this Richard leans close and kisses his cousin Aumerle (the youthful, boyish Oliver Rix) on the lips. As with Hamlet, so with Richard – there’s an identity crisis at play (“remember who you are”, Aumerle counsels, as if that were possible), but here it’s of a sexual nature too. And in a further directorial flourish, Doran makes Aumerle the last face the imprisoned, ousted monarch sees, plunging the dagger into him.
Overall, though, this production is more reverent than radical. Doran has suggested he will work slowly, steadily, through the canon – and the first scene especially, in which Nigel Lindsay’s tough, gruff, almost too-too solid Bolingbroke squares up to Antony Byrne’s aggrieved Mowbray – each accusing the other of treason – feels slow and steady to a fault. Richard’s reign, some 20 years in at this stage (1398), was in severe trouble. Thanks to an emphasised aura of restraint – signalled by a stark, simple set from Stephen Brimson Lewis, augmented by subtle projections on towering screens – you don’t get much sense of the hurly-burly of this chapter of history or of events spinning wildly out of the king’s weakening control.
With his startled eyes and concentrated frown, Tennant is frail, pale and consistently interesting but the nervous energy he excels in is confined to quarters early on. Trumpets sound, sopranos trill sacred music as if wafting incense; the king is embalmed in ceremony, cloaked in remoteness.
It’s the older hands who galvanise proceedings with emotional intensity in the first half. A quivering Jane Lapotaire as the widowed Duchess of Gloucester, spilling over with unconfined grief, that perpetually stooped, hangdog actor Oliver Ford Davies as the fretful Duke of York and Michael Pennington, little short of magnificent as John of Gaunt – lending febrile and ferocious emphasis to his “This sceptr’d isle” speech and to those last-gasp accusations against Richard.
The evening is always lucid but only truly crystalises as things fall apart. Richard spasms with panic as he grasps the frailty of existence, crawling on the floor in abjection. He’s appealingly sardonic as he bows in exaggeration before his usurper, and at the end, having taken on the aspect of Christ, he appears aloft on a gantry, looking down in beatific accusation as Bolingbroke contemplates the blood on his hands. Tennant shines, but he has shone brighter.

The Daily Express gives a 5 star review with Neil Norman saying:
Often represented as effete and capricious, even gay, Richard needs a very special actor to seek out all the crevices of his personality.
David Tennant is that actor. From the moment he arrives on stage in a kind of gilded sheath with his long hair held back by a crown to attend his uncle Gloucester's funeral, he shows us with sly precision a man in thrall to his own vanity, seduced by his anointed position and intelligent enough to be aware of both. As his role becomes increasingly challenging and challenged by the remorseless Bolingbroke (Nigel Lindsay), Richard's doubts about his fitness to rule leak out as if from invisible wounds while the sub-textual debates - pragmatist v aesthete, philistine v artist - hover in the ether.
Gregory Doran's production is superbly orchestrated from the opening funeral in a soaring Gothic cathedral with three sopranos and musicians to Richard's abdication which turns into a tug-of-war over the crown with Bolingbroke.
This is a lucid, moving production packed with tremendous performances. From Michael Pennington's John of Gaunt, the last great Englishman, to Oliver Ford Davies's wonderfully bewildered Duke of York. Emma Hamilton as the Queen, Marty Cruickshank as the Duchess of York and Jane Lapotaire as the bereaved Duchess of Gloucester all make striking contributions.
The sense of England is prevalent throughout. Returning from Ireland Richard strokes the ground with a lover's caress, as if nourished by the earth itself. Whether sashaying around like a 14th-century David Bowie or stumbling like a Christ figure hauled before Bolingbroke's Pontius Pilate, Tennant captures Richard's androgyny, suggesting a man more asexual than bisexual. But he is no pushover. When the murderers come for him he goes down fighting. I was sorely tempted to cheer.
Verdict: 5/5

Five years on from his electrifying Hamlet, David Tennant returns to the Royal Shakespeare Company to play Richard II. From the moment of its announcement this has been one of the year’s hottest tickets.

Tennant does not disappoint. He delivers a vivid, intelligent performance, at least as mesmerising as the best of his TV work. He is certainly not afraid to make Richard dislikable. Instead of the poetic soul we tend to see, his Richard is irritable. In the early scenes he is petulant and smug.

With fluting voice and waist-length hair (Tennant sports mighty extensions) he is a picture of prissy narcissism. And he skips around the stage like a child who has had too many sweets.

From the outset Tennant’s Richard is excitingly unpredictable and as his authority crumbles he transforms intriguingly from a gilded tyrant into a more vulnerable character — yet one who is capable of bursts of aggression. By the end he is a holy man in a flowing white robe.

Gregory Doran’s production moves slowly for the first hour or so but it is satisfying both visually and dramatically. It also benefits from the strongest RSC cast in a long time.

Tennant’s Richard contrasts nicely with Nigel Lindsay’s robust, manly Bolingbroke. Michael Pennington makes a poignantly eloquent John of Gaunt, while Jane Lapotaire and Marty Cruickshank bring real substance to lesser roles. Oliver Ford Davies deserves a special mention: his Duke of York is an unalloyed delight.

Doran places an unusual emphasis on the king’s cousin Aumerle (Oliver Rix) and it is Richard’s relationship with him — coloured by awkward lust — that defines the production.

This is a clear, detailed and dynamic account of a drama that can often seem glutted with artful rhetoric and ceremonial formality. It is an impressive start to Doran’s campaign to stage all Shakespeare’s plays. Richard II will come to the Barbican in December, as well as being shown in cinemas on November 13.