Sunday, October 2

Richard II – The Vaults

This inventive take on a Shakespearean classic finds itself in the grizzly, ambient Vaults. Quandry Collective presents a world in which a woman disguises herself as a man to hold onto the throne. The story follows Richard II’s demise starting from the moment he banishes Bolingbroke to his bitter end.

The cast is all male with the exception of Coco Maertens who plays Richard. They convey a harsh, sterile environment full of dormant aggression and angst which often explodes into violence and you appreciate her precarious position as a woman. The set designed by Valentine Gigadet is cluttered with pieces of fence and other units amongst bric-a-brac that double up as percussive instruments used by the performers. This sets an ominous tone and with the pulsating electronic beats, they both bring out the primal elements of the piece.

As characters switch from one side to the other, and each is for his own, the cast highlight the effects of toxic masculinity, and the intangible hold it can have over men through the trance-like movement sequences. In several transitions, the cast merge into an ensemble. With movement direction from Zoe Villiers, they sway and move fluidly in contrast to their purposefully grounded, rigidity in scenes, yet they retain a sense of stolidity in the power of the collective.

This is the most fight heavy show I have seen at a theatre, and it was all done to an excellent standard, led by Jonathan Holby. The fist fights felt charged and brutish, and the knife fights were tense and made me feel squeamish.

George Alexander’s Bolingbroke is pensive and mild, sensible in opposition to the sporadic, expressive Richard. With humorous delivery from Dannan McAleer as Northumberland and from Edwin Flay as Duke of York, they lighten the heavy tone. Joseph Quartson makes for a moving John of Gaunt but perhaps slightly overplays his illness. Troy Richards plays an exasperated Mowbray and his anger and pride set the foundations of the play. Joshua Picton is an entertaining, slightly dopey Bushy. Ashley Hodgson portrays Aumerle’s unswerving loyalty to Richard.

Coco Maertens made the role of Richard her own. Her take on Richard is truthful and quite bold in her eccentricity. I was hooked watching every single one of her speeches. Her dramatic reactions where we anticipate crying instead of laughter strangely worked and the gradual descent into madness was directed thoughtfully by Annie Mckenzie.

Quandry Collective’s Richard II is a reminder that Shakespeare is as relevant as ever. With a focus on men holding powerful roles in society and what women in male-dominated environments go through, it is a stark reminder to be aware of this harmful energy and of how it can play out in our day-to-day experiences.

Playing until 8th May 2022,

Reviewer: Riana Howarth

Reviewed: 8th April 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★