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Richard II at the Black Box Theatre: Blood, Bitterness and Betrayal

06 March 2017
Theatrical productions at Wellington College just keep on getting better and more ambitious as our pupils take to the stage with increasing confidence. From 1-3 March, a small cast of mostly sixth form pupils, ably supported by their director, Dr Steve Jacobi, presented their thrilling version of William Shakespeare’s Richard II. The Black Box theatre provided an intimately minimalistic stage which was perfect for drawing the audience into this tale of conspiracy and betrayal. Subtle lighting and music cues added an edge of tension, punctuated by live trumpet and drumming. The cast members, both major and supporting, performed with a confidence and passion that is refreshing to see in younger performers aiming to tackle such a demanding piece of Shakespeare. Admittedly, there were some first-night jitters on Wednesday, leading to a few instances of fumbled lines, but these early errors were quickly ironed out for the later performances, thanks to the perseverance and dedication of the cast. As Jackson, playing the Duke of York, rightly pointed out: “The experience showed me that having to learn the lines is also about knowing what they mean…and acting accordingly. It’s very different from learning Shakespeare in the classroom.” Jessica cut a regal and imposing figure as King Richard, rising to the challenge of this complex role that required her to walk a fine line between showing proud distain for the rebels who were seizing her crown, as well as deep regret for the mistakes her character makes. Parakh provided her with an excellent adversary as Henry Boilingbroke; displaying believably fiery wrath when angered, she then switched to a brooding intensity in the later scenes. Jackson stepped in the shoes of the Duke of York with seeming effortlessness, successfully portraying a man caught in an impossible position while adding a welcome touch of exasperated humour. Joseph is to be equally commended for delivering his death speech with rare skill and authenticity. A special mention goes to Tom, whose delivery of the “everyman commentary” was delightfully funny and successfully showed the audience that the life of a simple gardener, far away from the troubles of kings and nobles, is something to be envied at times. Director Steve Jacobi was quick to highlight the complexity and ambitiousness of the play, and equally quick to praise the cast for their admirable efforts: “Shakespeare is difficult. And Richard II is difficult Shakespeare. In addition, any Shakespeare is difficult for first-language English speakers so for those in the cast for whom English is a second or even a third language, the challenges were enormous. I’m not sure adults would have coped with the levels of inherent difficulty. Young people just have a go and are often surprised at what they can achieve.” – Dr Steve Jacobi