There was a standing ovation when the curtain fell on Richard ll at the Barbican, and it was well justified. The whole theatrical experience was spellbinding – from the angel-like voices of the singers which rang out as the play opened to the gripping performances of David Tennant and the entire cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Richard ll had its premier in Stratford-upon-Avon in the autumn, and it marks the beginning of a series of events in which each of the Bard’s plays will be performed over the next six years to celebrate two significant anniversaries – Shakespeare’s birth 450 years ago in 2014 and the 400th anniversary of his death in 2016.

David Tennant and artistic director Gregory Doran join forces again after their sensational Hamlet five years. This time it’s 1398 – the reign of Richard ll.

The play opens when a political crisis is in full swing between Thomas Mowbray (Antony Byrne) and Henry Bolingbroke (Nigel Lindsay). Richard ll banishes Mowbray for life and sends Bolingbroke into exile for six years.

Tennant’s Richard ll has flowing long locks and dons full-length robes, sometimes in gold lamé. This all demonstrates how the young Richard was swept away by the latest Italian fashions rather than being a king of sound judgement – he makes the wrong decisions on taxes, wars with Ireland, and is known for his wastefulness. He is a king with little attributes for the position, but Tennant makes us feel for him, and by the end of the play, when he dies, we have compassion for the fallen king.

There are many notable scenes, but one that caused an eyebrow to be raised was his relationship with the Duke of Aumerle (Oliver Rix) when they were sitting on the wall at Flint Castle, and a confused Richard plants a kiss on the lips of the duke.

Also the scene when Richard teases Bolingbroke as he gives up the crown has a wonderful mix of pathos and a sprinkling of jest.

Superb performances were given by the rest of the cast: Jane Lapotaire as the Duchess of Gloucester, Oliver Ford Davies gives a remarkable performance as the Duke of York, Nigel Lindsay is a strong Henry Bolingbroke, and Michael Pennington is brilliant as John of Gaunt.

Lindi Bilgorri