brazen, subversive and extremely funny

— REVIEW of ‘Richard II’ | The Age

Richard II | Review

Cameron Woodhead | The Age
22 Sep, 2014

Richard II review: Daring adaptation takes a poke a Canberra politics.
Mark Wilson, MKA, Northcote Town Hall
Until September 28

This brazen, subversive and extremely funny adaptation of Richard II takes the deposition of the god-King and punts it into the realm of contemporary politics and gender: specifically, the assassination of Kevin Rudd by Julia Gillard.

The inventive performance style is a mash-up of Shakespearean verse, post-dramatic deflation, political satire, and a form of anarchic clowning inspired, perhaps, by the vulgar antics of the commedia dell’ arte.

Its opening scene shows Richard II (Mark Wilson) and Henry Bolingbroke (Olivia Monticciolo) as children, boy and girl.

Child’s play it might be, but it sets the stage for a toothsome exploration of gender politics, with Richard’s sense of entitlement growing into a tyrannical and histrionic monster, a fragile cult of personality that’s one immediately recognisable incarnation of male power (and cognate with Rudd’s defects as prime minister).

Monticciolo’s gestalt of Bolingbroke/Gillard is a cool antidote to Wilson’s poltroonery. Calculating and competent, all business, she’s a morally ambiguous figure with her eye on the prize. The undermining of her authority takes the form of ugly misogyny (portrayed via ridiculous heels and inspired full-body puppetry) and faceless men.

We might be a bit stretched to imagine Tony Abbott as Henry V, and the text doesn’t make an overt comparison, focusing instead on the cynical tactic of shoring up leadership weakness by attempting to unite the populace against a common enemy.

It’s a brilliant, daring show with outstanding performances, and I’d love to see it taken up on the main stage. Its visual comedy would benefit from more elaborate design and access to the full bag of theatrical tricks.

“brazen, subversive and extremely funny”