Rebellion, backstabbing and violence

The space for this production is a single room.
Eight actors will perform the play.
All the actors are present for every scene. No one enters or leaves the space.

The parameters we’ve set for our production of The Tragedy of Richard the Second immediately provoke questions in the staging of the play: when no actors leave the space what does it mean to be exiled? To go to Ireland? How does a character die or get killed? How do we resurrect the actor as a new character? What changes when a character can observe a scene they are not in? Answering these and exploring the dynamics of the cast in the space has dictated a lot of work we are doing in the first few weeks of rehearsal, as well as understanding the politics and rules of 14th Century feudalism.

In our single room, the reality in the play sits alongside the reality of the actors on the stage in a way that throws the relationships and conflicts into relief. On the stage, it is clear that authority is only held by one person so long as the rest agree on who that person should be. Two people compete to hold the support of the other six, and wear the crown. In this way we see a microcosm of a nation, the mechanics of power laid bare. In the play, the doctrine of the divine right of Kings is challenged, in the shape of Richard, and shown to be a myth. Once the myth is shattered however, we glimpse the chaos that will ensue: if Bolingbrook, a man who has not been anointed by God, can be King, why can’t anyone else?

The world of the play is a ruthless, politically uncertain one. The murder of Gloucester – who is responsible for his death and how far up the chain of command the order came from, is asked repeatedly but never answered satisfactorily. State ordered theft is retaliated with summary executions. Rebellion, backstabbing and violence shake the foundations of civil society as major change in national governance is brought in. Analogies with the current Tory party, Brexit, Jamal Khashoggi, and Trump are never far away. Richard, who has known nothing but kingship, finds his entire sense of self-threatened. When Bolingbrook becomes King, the difficulty for anyone to keep peace over a group, and the exhausting demands of ruling are apparent.

As in politics, so in this production: no one emerges clean.


There is a brutal, playful quality to Richard the Second, and a lot of humour interspersed with the tyranny, treason and existential torment. Throughout the rehearsal process we have established a pretty good rhythm of work-hard play-hard integrating warm-up games that feed into the sense of competition and calculation. Once taken onto the stage, these games feed into a heightened awareness of others, scrutinising micro expressions and body language. Trust no one.

As the show runs over the festive period when you may well be experiencing high volumes of social gatherings, here are a couple of rehearsal room games that can be employed to alleviate (or fuel) tension among friends and family.

Blue Dot

Similar to the game ‘mafia’, this is great for practising convincing deception and mastering your ability to mobilise a pack for your own gain.

  • Everyone picks a piece of paper out of the hat and looks at it in secret. On one of the pieces of paper there is a blue dot.
  • The aim of the game is for the person with the blue dot to conceal their identity for as long as possible.
  • As a group, you must decide who has the blue dot through discussion. Eg. Simon is being suspiciously quiet...Charlie looks guilty but then she always laughs under pressure... Leo’s very keen to accuse everyone etc.
  • When you decide unanimously that you will accuse someone you point to them and say ‘Saskia Saskia Saskia do you have the blue dot?’ Saskia reveals her paper and if she does not have the blue dot she is eliminated and becomes a blue ghost. If Saskia does have the blue dot the game is over and the group wins.
  • Accusations continue until the blue dot is discovered.
  • If it gets down to just two people, each one takes a minute to convince the group they don’t have the blue dot. The group votes.
  • If the person with the blue dot remains unsuspected everyone has to chip in to buy you lunch at Ottolenghi. WIN.


This is a memory game in which you must accurately assess the thought process and frame of reference of other people whilst refining the ability to disguise your own in order to build an Empire around you.

  • One person is the scribe
  • Everyone else thinks of a famous name (dead or alive, real or imaginary) and one by one whispers it to the scribe who writes the names down in secret.
  • Once the names are collected, the scribe reads the list of names out loud twice, slowly, in a random order.
  • The youngest person (assistant stage manager Amy) starts by asking someone else if they are one of the names eg. Robin, are you Judas Iscariot? If Robin is Judas Iscariot she joins Amy’s empire and Amy wears a crown. Amy and Robin then work as a team to ask someone else. If Amy is wrong, it is Robin’s turn to ask someone. If John were to guess Amy’s famous name correctly John would gain both Amy and Robin, growing his own Empire.
  • The game continues until one person conquers the entire group, winning the crown.

The Tragedy of King Richard the Second plays 10 December 2018 - 2 February 2019