[Shakespeare’s Globe, London. Photo: Ingrid Pollard] Shakespeare with an all-women-of-colour cast has become the main, perhaps inevitable, media story of this production, yet there is much more to note. Above all the joint direction of Lynette Linton and Adjoa Andoh is a triumph in itself, not least because of the coherence they achieve as a team when taking on demanding material that requires absolute focus to really get right. From the design and staging to the choreography and score, there is a vivid and ambitious vision that reflects a strong commitment to showing the bard’s characters and stories in all their universality and timelessness. In the title role, Andoh is commanding, hitting the right emotional peaks as the monarch’s grip on power loosens steadily and irrevocably following the calamitous decision to banish his cousin, Bolingbroke and Mowbray, after the former accuses the latter of plotting to murder the Duke of Norfolk. The dramatic exile of the pair cannot hide the self-destructive hubris of the king amid the very clear and present danger of civil war in his own land. He is politically inept. He is emotionally fraught.
How indecision, greed and ambition all play out in electrifying exchanges between the characters is as significant as the ‘action scenes’ that push the plot along, and the beauty of Shakespeare – his great insights into human nature amid the slings and arrows of societal conflict and change – is well rendered by an excellent ensemble, of which Dona Croll as John Of Gaunt is outstanding. Others are convincing too, none more so than Sarah Niles as Bolingbroke and Shobna Gulati as York. They convey all the hard, cold calculation as well as the vulnerability of men who are playing a high stakes game in which the losses will be tragically substantial.
All of which resonates powerfully with a world that we know only too well. A gale of bitterly ironic audience laughter nearly blows out the lanterns of Rajha Shakiry’s intimate and atmospheric set when Gaunt wearily declares, “England that was wont to conquer others, hath made a shameful conquest of itself!” The howls from Brussels should be loud enough to send a hurricane over London when that line rings out again on March 29. Therein lies the ongoing necessity of Shakespeare, and the urgency to cast it across borders of race and gender, before any ‘red lines’ are forever drawn.
Kevin Le Gendre
Until April 22.