In so many ways this production of Shakespeare’s seminal retelling of the beginning of the “War of the Cousins” (or Roses if you will) is unique.

Firstly, being a production performed entirely by women of colour is a first for the English stage. Secondly, having so many cultures incorporated into the performance and costumes, meant that there is immediate and welcome resonance with the multi-cultural audience, recognising the west African prostration of the Dobale (when one lays down flat on the ground before an elder to greet them), or the Hindu salutation of Charan Sparsh (reverently touching the feet of an elder and then one’s head to convey respect). Thirdly, having the actress/director Adjoa Andoh take on the titular role; being the co-director of this piece alongside artistic director of the Bush theatre, Lynette Linton (Sweat, Hashtag Lightie), gave the piece a true intimacy that was not created by chance, but by virtue of the talent onstage and the superb way in which Andoh had to approach not just the role, but the whole production.

Really, Andoh and Linton should be extremely proud of what they have created. The cast, for the most part, were excellent, each digging into a real power and truth which came from themselves and their heritages, meaning that the frustrated Duke of York (Shobna Gulati), uncle to both parties vying for the crown, had as much power and spell in her performance as the righteous Henry of Bolingbroke, (Sarah Niles) spurred to rebellion, initially and unfortunately, by her love for her country and her reverence for the crown, or the subtle Aumerle (Ayesha Dharker) whose quiet strength was the fuel for her king, but yet, had this ability to have snake-like characteristics, so that one was ever fully sure if one trusted her.

Nobody however, was able to outshine Andoh as Richard II. Extremely nuanced she physically embodied her character in such a way that, where she to have gone off script, I would have had no idea, as she won herself the ability, through her performance, to go anywhere she wanted with the character. We, as the audience, were her happy captives.

The other two aspects of this production, which took me were the lighting and costume design. Apart from a subtle tint of backdrop, the entire stage and auditorium were lit by candles which again, gave support to this intimacy that pervaded the whole show. We were in the castle halls with the cast as intrigue unfolded, as lives were wrecked and corruption overturned. The costumes, I believe, were drawn from the cultural backgrounds of the women in the cast, having West African, Egyptian and Asian influences that worked in tandem with each cast member lending power to each performance in a way I have never seen. Cleo Maynard and Rianna Azoro really must be highly commended for their work which added literal and metaphorical texture to this beautiful production.

For its novelty alone, this play is worth seeing. Combine the relevant context of modern day England divided, by asking the question, “Who does England really belong to?“along with the electric performance of Adjoa Andoh and the riveting capacity of the whole show, you have a winner.


Richard II runs at Shakespeare’s Globe until April 21st. Find out more and book your tickets here.