York-based, site-sensitive theatre company Bronzehead take on Shakespeare’s historical play, Richard II, about a king who loses his identity and his throne, set in the garden of England.
Reaping the land of its wealth, King Richard’s cronies are getting rich as they pollute the soil itself. Urged toward rebellion, Richard’s cousin Bolingbroke tears down the rotten boughs of the old reign. Stripped of his land and his kingship but remaining sardonic in the face of his loss, Richard loses control of his own identity. Rooted in the metaphor, actors turn their spades and pruning hooks into swords and spears.
The tour blooms first at the Stained Glass Centre at St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate, just yards from where one of the characters’ historical counterparts, Hotspur, was displayed after his death.
The production continues to Tithe Barn Gardens in Poppleton, to Pontefract Castle, where Richard was imprisoned and died – the first time the play has been performed there. Still, it’s not all death and gloom – the production also heads to Helmsley Walled Garden and Harrogate Valley Gardens.
‘Working people doing their best while rulers just play’
Director Tom Straszewski, who has also worked on The Crucifixion for the 2014 Mystery Plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor for the York Shakespeare Project, describes his take on Richard II:
“There’s a scene where three gardeners compare their garden to England, and how the politicians have failed to look after it, or even tried to flog the whole thing off. I was struck by that image of a garden in decay – of working people trying to do their best while their rulers just play. So we take that as our touchstone, setting the whole of England within that garden, as the workers tend it into new life. That led to the idea of touring to York gardens – perfect for a summer evening’s entertainment.”
Richard II comes to St Martin-cum-Gregory in York from 8th to 12th July. It’s at 7:30pm nightly with a 2pm matinee on Saturday July 11th. The play is on at Poppleton Tithe Barn on 17th July from 7:00pm. Tickets are £14.