OUR RATING: Chance It!
We had the opportunity to see our first Two Pence Theatre Company production with Richard II. Two Pence’s mission is to provide audiences with works inspired by the principles of the Renaissance so as to illuminate what it means to be human. This doesn’t mean just Shakespearean scripts, but in today’s instance, it does!
Richard II, the first history play of William Shakespeare’s Henriad tetralogy (and the least performed), poetically tells the tale of the last two years of King Richard II’s reign (1377-1399) and, ultimately, his deposition. We must admit we understand why this work isn’t performed very much: there’s a whole lot of words compared to action and story, and a whole slew of characters to keep track of, but Two Pence pulls it off quite admirably.
Adam: The choice to produce Richard II, one of the most wordy and difficult of Shakespeare’s plays, is a testament to the daring nature of Two Pence; and they should be given ample applause for venturing into these murky, less trodden waters. The overall effect, perhaps due to the themes, and also because of the textual nature of the play, is perhaps less impressive, but a wide variety of performances make it enjoyable nonetheless.
Company Member Michael Mercier (Richard II) portrays the title role in all its complexity, leading to a lively and riveting portrait of a man who must struggle with the fact that his title must be based on more than divine right and, that ultimately, one must be a good diplomat to be a good ruler. I find it interesting that Two Pence chose to stage this play during this historical period, which so closely mirrors that of the Elizabethan time when the original was written. The ever-present issues of legitimacy, stability and rebellion ring true and perhaps unconsciously influenced this staging of an ever-present classic.
My one major qualm was the occasional, but consistent mispronunciation of place names, that seemed strange as they were correct at other times. However, I shan’t go on too much about this matter, it being of more interest to the historian amongst us, but suffice to say Hereford is said He-re-ford and Derby as Dar-bee, and we’ll leave it at that.
Alicia: I have two words for you: Ally Carey. By far the most powerful and versatile actor of the bunch (although the whole ensemble was generally strong), Ally Carey (John of Gaunt and others) not only gives it her all to each and every character she plays, but seems to almost glide effortlessly in transitioning between them. And with Violence Choreographer Justin Verstraete’s talented guidance, she is one bad-ass assassin. I will definitely be on a lookout for her on other Chicago stages in the future, perhaps a Babes with Blades production?
Carey, like the other five actors, takes on a plethora of roles under ensemble member Kathryn Walsh’s direction. If it wasn’t for the helpful family tree drawings, an array of moving chalkboard set pieces and numerous quick costume changes, it’d be impossible to tell who is who from one instant to the next. Honestly, at times I did find myself a little confused as to who we were watching, as sometimes little context was given and the actors and set pieces only did so much to assuage the discomfort and confusion I felt. A little more guidance from the production, even with a program note or two, would have alleviated this.
Final Thoughts: Intriguing, influential and well-thought out, Richard II from Two Pence Theatre company provides a nice evening of entertainment by an emerging company whom we are excited to see more from in the future. Definitely for the Shakespeare enthusiast, and any fan of theatre and the power of language, but perhaps not for the infrequent theatre-goer. Only two weeks left!
P.S.: If you’d like to read along with a fantastic new edition of Richard II check this out.