There has been great excitement about David Tennant’s much anticipated return to the RSC stage since he wowed packed audiences with his Hamlet here in 2008.
He is the poster boy for the company’s new season and with such high profile billing there was great expectation as he flounced onto the stage as a flamboyant and effeminate Richard II.
Sporting a crop of wavy long hair, painted nails, and a sceptre held in his limp wrist, Tennant’s portrayal of the tragic king was that of a self-obsessed spoilt child.
The play opens in a sombre abbey with the coffin of Richard II’s uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, taking centre stage.
Draped on top is a distraught Duchess of Gloucester and on the entrance of the king an argument begins with Richard’s cousin Bolingbroke accusing Thomas Mowbray of causing the Duke’s death and then challenging him to trial by combat.
As the duel commences, Richard steps in and banishes them both from the kingdom.
It is following the death of Bolingbroke’s father John of Gaunt that Richard’s downfall begins as he takes Gaunt’s property and money for himself. Bolingbroke, backed by an army of supporters, returns demanding his rightful inheritance.
Tennant is excellent as a narcissistic Richard who sees his group of admirers diminish, leaving him a desperate and lonely king in this adaption of the history play by RSC’s artistic director Greg Doran.
A moment of tenderness comes when the king shares a kiss with his youthful cousin Aumerle - allowing us a brief glimpse of his softer side and adding much impact to a dramatic betrayal later on.
Tennant appears vulnerable and Jesus-like in his final scenes - bare-footed, sporting long white robes with a large dominating cross around his neck, holding aloft his crown as he finally gives it away to Bolingbroke.
His performance as an unlikable king was strong but he was outshone by Oliver Ford Davies as the often humorous and sometimes despairing Duke of York and Jane Lapotaire, who was deeply moving as the inconsolable Duchess of Gloucester.