RICHARD II: David Tennant Explains His Character's Style & Hair

Earlier today, David Tennant fronted the final event in the Royal Shakespeare Company's King & Country Talk Series held at the Barbican Centre to complement the King & Country play cycle currently in residence there. 

David took to the tiny stage of the Frobisher Auditorium together with another of the RSC's King Richards, Jonathan Slinger, who played the role in 2007 (dir. Michael Boyd) to answer questions to a packed house of fans of the play . The event was hosted by Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford and the conversation covered the historical context of the play, its place in Shakespeare's tetralogy (with Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V) and the King's relationship with other characters.

David and Jonathan were both asked to explain the thinking behind their costumes. Jonathan explained how they had staged the production in full Elizabethan dress, with a red-haired Richard as a vainglorious aesthete whose costume and finery were gradually stripped away as he lost his power and possessions. 

David Tennant's Richard is far more ethereal and androgynous in nature, sporting embroidered robes, jewellery and long golden hair (extensions in the 2013 run, now a wig). David confessed that he had obsessed over the idea that, because Richard had been born to be king and was then crowned as a boy, this created an unusual situation where he never found himself having to conform to any expectations of fashion or form, as nobody would ever dare to challenge him.

"No-one's ever going to say to him, 'Cut your bloody hair!'" he explained. 

"So he would be allowed to become whatever whim took him," he continued. "I was looking for something that would set him apart. What could that be? Well, men didn't have long hair, but if he wanted long hair he had people who would look after that because he was king. If he decided he wanted gold gilded fingernails that would happen because he wanted it to happen. We were trying to define what the story would be for a person who grew up without having to conform to any social norms, where that would take him and where, as an adult, he might have arrived."

David also explained that Richard's look also became useful later in the production where the king compares himself as a Christ-like figure, and the white 'nightie' helped to compound this. 

Richard II starring David Tennant and Jasper Britton is currently playing in cycle at the Barbican Theatre in London. Two performances remain on Tuesday and Saturday of next week; limited non-cycle tickets and returns may still be available from the Barbican box office.

Jonathan Slinger is currently playing Willy Wonka in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.