Complexity fit for a king

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 March, 1998, 12:00am

The title ruler in Shakespeare's King Richard II is a psychologist's dream - there must be enough material to write an award-winning casebook.

Richard II exhibits paranoia, has a tendency to manic depression, but is also highly intelligent and cultured.

So when Jonathan Douglas - producer of RTHK Radio 4's Art Beat - was told he was 'just right' for the lead role in the forthcoming production by Queen's Cafe Theatre, it was fortunate he took it as a compliment.

'Richard is a complex, poetic character, flawed but with an incredible imagination,' he said.

So is this a character description of Douglas himself? 'Yes, it definitely struck a chord, though it is important to suspend oneself. I become Richard more than he becomes me,' he added.

The play revolves around Richard's voyage of self-destruction and the transfer of power from Richard as child king to Richard the adult monarch, who is being forced to relinquish his crown to his cousin Bolingbroke.

The director, Linda Dunn, a linchpin of Hong Kong amateur dramatics, said she had always wanted to direct a Shakespeare play but was keen that it should be one of the lesser known ones.

She agreed she had not chosen an easy path: 'It has been very difficult - I would not have taken it on if we had not had Jonathan playing Richard.' Organising a major production like this is hard because people in Hong Kong find it difficult to commit to the necessary long rehearsal period as business trips and work get in the way, she says.

She also says one of the reasons King Richard II is rarely performed is that the play has a huge cast. She has resolved this potential dilemma by casting each actor to play three roles.

Also, Dunn chose to set the play in the time for which it was written - 1398.

'I thought it was quite novel to set the play in the traditional time. I didn't want to jump on the bandwagon and set it in another era like the 1930s.' This has meant a large costume budget and extensive research into what was de rigueur in the 14th century royal court.

If the setting is traditional, so is the portrayal of Richard. Douglas said: '[In some versions] Richard has been played as a woman and also as a very camp homosexual which emphasises his feminine qualities and his appreciation of beauty.' In other productions he has been portrayed as a thug, he added.

As lead actor he said he felt he was steering a middle course in his character portrayal of Richard. For Douglas the line that he feels best sums up the character comes at a crucial moment, when Richard becomes aware his followers are deserting him and that his banished cousin Bolingbroke has returned.

Then he says: 'For God's sake let's sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.' He explained: 'Because Richard is a bit of a manic depressive, there is a deep melancholic stream and poetic preoccupation with death.' King Richard II at the Fringe Club until Saturday, 8pm. Tickets $130 non-members, $100 members.