BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

18/08/2016 - 27/08/2016

Production Details


Coinciding with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Sceptre Theatre promises to shine new light on Richard II, a lesser known play in the Shakespearean canon. The production features a twelve strong cast of some Wellington’s finest performers including Hayden Frost (Summer Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, The Almighty Johnsons) Brianne Kerr (Wellington Theatre Awards’ Supporting Actress of the Year – Richard III), Patrick Davies (The Pitmen Painters, A Servant to Two Masters) and Maggie White (SGCNZ Young Shakespeare Company 2010).

The play follows King Richard who, believing himself to be appointed by God, makes increasingly damaging decisions to the realm, creating large social unrest. When Richard seizes the lands of John of Gaunt right after his passing, Gaunt’s son Bolingbroke wages a rebellion against the king. Richard finds his divine right challenged, and, seeking aid from his allies, discovers dissent from even his most trusted advisors.

Often confused with Shakespeare’s more iconic historical king, the snarling Richard III, this Richard is less an out and out villain and more of an enigma, closer to the tragic figures of Hamlet and King Lear.

“The fact that it’s so underappreciated is a tragedy in and of itself,” says Director James Cain, believing that such a significant anniversary was a perfect introduction to it for New Zealand. “We’re going to give it the full treatment, so audiences can experience a story that’s as complex and lyrical as the well-known classics”.

Along with the language, Cain is excited to push the boundaries of what can be done theatrically, utilizing the full height and scale of the Propeller Stage at BATS Theatre. Drawing from the text and its descriptions of the land as an ‘other eden’, set designer Lucas Neal (Spring Awakening, Long Ago Long Ago, Knifed) has envisaged a kingdom for Richard that is both holy and majestic but also tactile, able to be stormed and overthrown.

Paired with the lighting design of Tony Black (Winner – Most Promising Emerging Artist – Fringe 2016), the costumes of Harriet Denby (Love and Information, Far Away, This Fair Verona) and the music of Flinn Gendall (Knifed, Against the Piercing Sun) the production promises to be as brave and energetic as the text that Shakespeare has gifted, an experience in the theatre not easily forgotten.

Richard II is on at
BATS Theatre on the Propeller Stage
from 18th-27th August, 6:30pm.
Book online at or call (04) 8024175
$18 Full, $14 Concession. 

Hayden Frost – Richard II
Maggie White – Bolingbroke
Patrick Davies – John of Gaunt, Gardener
Brianne Kerr – Duke of York
Kelly Moen – Duke of Aumerle
Mouce Young – Northumberland
Stevie Hancox-Monk – Queen
Michael Trigg – Bushy, Bishop of Carlisle
David Bowers-Mason – Bagot
Diesel McGrath – Green, Servant
Matthew Staijen-Leach – Lord Marshall, Scroop, Lord Willoughby, Groom.
Andrew Goddard – Mowbray, Lord Ross, Lad, Welsh Captain. 

Lighting Designer: Tony Black
Set Designer: Lucas Neal
Costume Designer: Lisa Kiyomoto-Fink
Sound Designer: Flinn Gendall
Movement Designer: Maggie White
Production Manager: Freya van Alphen Fyfe 

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A Shakespeare for Brexit times

Review by Max Rashbrooke 22nd Aug 2016

If Richard II were a person, it’d be an older brother too often upstaged by its showy younger sibling, Richard III. But Sceptre Theatre’s production proves that there’s as much – if not more – matter in the older work.

The play revolves around the combat between King Richard and his upstart cousin Henry Bolingbroke, who returns from banishment to vie for the throne. For that reason the play’s success hinges on the performances of the two leads, Hayden Frost and Maggie White. And both have their strengths. Frost in particular has a beautiful control over the language, making Shakespeare’s lines seem as natural and unforced as today’s speech. [More


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Fresh, fruity and pertinent

Review by John Smythe 19th Aug 2016

Listed in the canon as a history, Shakespeare’s Richard II is nevertheless a tragic story about a leader promoted beyond his level of competence who rules in the belief his right to rule is divinely ordained. (He will even compare himself to the betrayed Christ.) But while hubris is his fatal flaw, his capacity for metaphysical whimsy and humour – some may call it florid flights of fancy – makes him arguably more intriguing and complex than the more grandly tragic King Lear.

The powerful opening scene, where Henry Bolingbroke accuses Thomas Mowbray of murder and corruption, which Mowbray rejects, introduces King Richard as a would-be peacemaker. But their unwillingness to forget and forgive, and insistence on throwing down their gauntlets and preparing to fight, sees the King banish them both. And it soon becomes apparent Richard is a self-serving, self-indulgent abuser of his power and too arrogant to take good advice. (Does this remind us of anything in today’s political landscape?)

Maggie White’s Henry Bolingbroke is strong on resolute intent, if light on voice at times. Her Henry comes across as a quiet if somewhat ruthless achiever. By interesting contrast Andrew Goddard gives us a strong and very forceful Mowbray whose honesty is so compelling it’s a real loss when he departs the scene so soon. Goddard then acquits himself well in other roles – although the text’s failure to identify characters within the dialogue may make those unfamiliar with the story wonder if he’s ‘done a Kent’ (as in King Lear) and returned in disguise.

Hayden Frost is maddeningly on the button as King Richard: boyish and almost innocent in the obliviousness that will eventually consign him to oblivion. There is room for more self-awareness and vulnerability in the ‘hollow crown’ speech – in which his actual crown could be better used, not least as a set-up for the way it is handled later, when Henry Bolingbroke becomes its claimant. But his whimsical soliloquy in prison, and his chat with a devoted Groom (Matthew Staijen Leach), humanises him so winningly it’s a saddening shock when his end is suddenly met.

Mind you, director James Cain has seen fit to simplify this scene, skipping the poisoned meal which Richard refuses to eat and eschewing the bloodbath with sees him slay some expendable Servants before he himself is stabbed. I approve, as I’ve always found Richard’s sudden burst of physical violence out of character (and suspect it was there as a cheap crowd-pleaser). I also think replacing the suddenly-introduced Sir Pierce of Exton with the Duke of Aumerle (Kelly Moen), son of York and hitherto very loyal to Richard, is an intriguing switch of allegiance that adds to his character as a self-preserving crawler – not that he’s actually named as the assassin but no attempt is made to change Moen’s appearance.

Other judicious cuts allow Richard II to be played without a break and it’s a testament to Cain’s dynamic staging, and the clear intentionality of the whole cast, that the ‘two hours traffic’ (exactly!) passes fluently.

Patrick Davies’ John of Gaunt (Henry’s father), Brianne Kerr’s Duke of York, Stevie Hancox Monk’s Queen and Mouce Young’s Earle of Northumberland all clearly articulate their diverse responses to King Richard’s rule and thus help to define his points of difference. And Davies returns as a Gardener in a heavily pruned scene.

Sirs John Bushy, John Bagot and Henry Green are played as louche lounge lizards by Michael Trigg, David Bowers-Mason and Diesel McGrath respectively, utilising fruit as a mark of privileged indulgence and even as a somewhat spiteful weapon. This links somehow to Keely Meechan’s Carmen Miranda-esque publicity image which I am still trying to decode. Trigg also plays the Bishop of Carlisle with a courageous conviction that sees him consigned to religious contemplation rather than death.

Lucas Neal’s impressive set gives the King(s) a balcony to stand aloof upon on beneath a suggestion of Gothic arches and cream banners, at least while Richard rules. The cream theme is carried though Lisa Kiyomoto-Fink’s costume designs for the ‘Richard team’ while other factions are distinguished by varying styles and splashes of colour. (I’m not quite sure what to make of the large white teeth adorning Bushy and Bagot’s costumes.) Tony Black’s lighting design, operated by Matt Loveranes, brings light and darkness to the unfolding story in highly effective ways.

A sack of white rice is brilliantly deployed to punctuate the spilling of blood that marks Bolingbroke’s deposing of Richard. It then becomes the “small model of the barren earth” that Richard realises is, along with death, all we can finally call our own when it “serves as paste and cover to our bones.” A quick re-jig of its contours later suggests the “numb’ring clock” and “time broke” with which the imprisoned Richard conjures verbally, in contemplating his fate.

(Because Bolingbroke is, according to the unfathomable conventions of the English language, pronounced Bolingbrook, the welter of word-play around “broke” that’s apparent on paper passes us by in performance. Perhaps some scholar could let us know if Elizabethan pronunciation would have allowed those puns to work.)

James Cain’s Sceptre Theatre (which launched with Horatio in 2014) is right welcome in Wellington with this fresh and fruity production of a rarely seen classic. It seems especially pertinent to these discordant times. 


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Cohesion leads to vibrancy

Review by Ewen Coleman 19th Aug 2016

Wellington is fortunate in having a number of Shakespearean plays produced here each year in many different styles and formats. Yet, rarely has there been a production so masterfully put together as Spectre Theatre’s production of Richard II currently playing at Bats Theatre.  

Every aspect of director James Cain’s production has been meticulously thought through, with the acting, set design, lighting and costumes all working together in a wonderfully cohesive way to bring one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays vibrantly to life. [More]


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