david tennant

On David Tennant, ‘Richard II,’ and the Joy of Acting

David Tennatn as Richard II at BAM. Photo by RSC

Sitting in his prison cell, the deposed king Richard II meditatively reflects on the nature of kingship and his sudden loss of power. He says,

Thus play I in one person many people,
And none contented: sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
And so I am: then crushing penury
Persuades me I was better when a king;
Then am I king’d again…

Richard II is one of the great chameleon-like figures of Shakespeare’s works, ranking among other hard-to-pin-down royals like Hamlet and Richard III. He’s at once angelically majestic and humanly flawed. When surrounded by his subjects, he invokes divine right with the grace and poise of a saint, but behind closed doors he talks of looting his dying uncle’s property with malevolent glee. He can be warrior-like and masculine, witnessing the wars in Ireland himself, as well as effeminate, enjoying the luxuries of the finest Italian fashions, as well as the love of his cousin Aumerle. Richard can act esoteric and transcendent, seemingly a god among men. But he is simultaneously worldly and deeply flawed.

Richard is able to swiftly ‘play’ many ‘people’ as king, with the keen ability to judge what circumstances call for which ‘person.’ However, this protean strength eventually becomes his great weakness. The cause of his fall lies largely in the court’s suspicion of his inconsistency and his poor judgment. Richard missteps when he arbitrarily banishes two members of the court, then minimizes the sentence of one when the other can exited the scene. Likewise, he allows the court to see his conniving greed and disrespectful attitude at his uncle’s death. Though Richard’s changeability is sometimes to be admired, his followers and flatterers can be just as changeable—in their loyalties. Trust is a thing easily lost and hardly gained back, and people want to know where one stands, even if they themselves prefer to stand for nothing.

When news of his usurpation arrives, he swings wildly between anxious despair and stately calm within the span of a few lines. This is his great moment of decision—to pass the crown peaceably, or to demand his God-given right to it. Perhaps what Richard mourns in handing over the crown is precisely the power to transform, to embody all these selves in one, without worrying about the consequences. Richard invokes divine right constantly (the idea that the king’s place on the throne was sanctioned by God from birth), and divine right is the only ideological guarantee for kings to keep the throne and rule with stability. His usurpation means that Richard (and other kings) have no stability to fall back on. God, essentially, is dead, and fickle man has taken over. In his prison cell, sitting with his arms extended in chains and his flowing brown hair draping his shoulders, Richard’s image invokes the crucified Christ, sacrificed to the human whims of greed and power.

Richard’s transformative powers, however, aren’t nearly as enjoyable or judicious as David Tennant’s. Tennant, who played Richard II in 2013 in London’s Barbican Theater and make his American stage debut with its reprise at BAM, has built his career on an enormous range of roles and genres. Best known for his five-year stint on Doctor Who, Tennant is a regular with the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring in both comedies (Much Ado) and tragedies (Hamlet). He’s also played a superhero villain (Jessica Jones), a washed up Vegas performer (Fright Night), and a disillusioned detective (Broadchurch).

Part of the wonder of good acting is the actor’s ability to make something that has been so carefully plotted on paper seem fresh, spontaneous, and natural. Tennant is a master of this feat. His choices are always enjoyable, often unpredictable, but always deeply rooted in his character. Every gesture is deliberate and insightful. He delivers lines with a novelty and truthfulness, and he always bridges that amazing dialectic space between consistency and surprise. Judging from his interviews, Tennant also seems to be avidly aware of his characters’ places in pop culture and dramatic history. He has hosted and narrated various pieces on Shakespeare’s legacy, and the fact that he was a lifelong fan of Doctor Who before his casting is apparent in how he approaches the role. He is a critical reader, searching into the text for information the way a scholar would, sounding out its depths and applications. He’s the kind of person you’d be desperate to attend your book club. Truly, his excellent performances come from a sheer joy and deep investment in the world of his character.

His turn as Richard II shows yet another side to Tennant’s range. Walking swiftly onstage in the opening scene, as if magically propelled by his divine mission, with his look up to the heavens, Richard seems not of this earth. And yet, Richard is so humanly flawed and so deeply introspective in his moments of peril. Tennant is the perfect choice to bridge these two extremes, every scene illuminating the fascinating paradoxes of his character. Tennant has the magnificent ability to explore Richard’s ‘many people.’ And it’s a pleasure to watch.

Richard II plays at BAM as part of the “King and Country” cycle, featuring Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. Tickets through April 29.

London Part I: Richard II and Basking in David Tennant’s Glory

Happy New Year! Y’all are probably sick and tired of hearing it by now, but LMezz wishes you an awesome 2014!  I spent my New Year’s midnight 5 hours earlier than usual because I was in *say it with me now* Greenwich Mean Time Zone!

An accurate depiction of the jetlag I experienced

More specifically, I rang in the New Year at a Tex-Mex restaurant called Chiquito’s in Leicester Square in London because a) parties intimidate me and b) strawberry margaritas needed to happen.

London’s theatre scene is very similar to New York’s, but also rather different in some key ways. The West End and Broadway frequently trade-off musicals. Matilda and Twelfth Night/Richard III In Rep series are the latest British shipments to arrive on Broadway, while Book of Mormon and Once have gotten the overseas treatment.

Soooo ummmm I can haz Richard II on Broadway? Probably not. But crazier things have happened.

Lately, I’ve been scouring the internet for the best Richard II gif I can find. My ideal gif is one of David Tennant putting on his crown, which he does with a little hair flip. It’s possibly one of the most gorgeous things I’ve seen ever. I will find a clip of this. And I will learn to make gifs. And I will notify you when I provide this very important gift to mankind.


Now, before I begin the review portion of my post, let me state that Richard II is actually NOT Richard III. You know that crooked old evil king whose remains were found in a parking lot? This isn’t that guy.

Richard II is one of Shakespeare’s earlier and lesser-performed plays. It doesn’t quite have the same dramatic legacy as your Hamlets or Julius Caesars, but it is very much a precursor to these later royal masterpieces about what happens when lines of succession are disrupted.  Richard II became king at ten years old. He has been historically characterized as narcissistic, beautiful, and possibly mentally ill in his later life. Shakespeare’s portrayal follows these characterizations pretty closely. Richard II is a king who seems disconnected from his people, yet his regality, confidence, and majesty inspire admiration. He is firm in his belief that he is God’s agent and chosen king. And in spite of his moral failings, he is incredibly introspective and sharp.

Because David Tennant is a heavenly creature, he is a perfect fit for Richard II. Sitting on his throne to solve the play’s opening quarrel, he looks firmly yet gracefully up towards heaven, as if symbolically seeking his divine inspiration from above, not from his own people. His walk is quick and effortless. We can certainly argue that Richard’s behavior is a performance. He knows how to gain the respect of his court, and his detached holier-than-thou act is just a power play. Yet, it is fascinating how easily Richard switches between very human traits like vulnerability and treachery, and his detached kingly persona. There’s an imposing aura of sanctity about it all– how one man can be so assured about his place in the world– and Tennant captures it perfectly.

This is probably where the hair comes in. David Tennant’s hair extensions (which he has kept in throughout the play’s run) made the internet rounds when the first official photos were released, and the general consensus was that they are horrifying to look at. As a longtime admirer of Tennant’s hair, I was heartbroken to see those long mousy locks and shaped eyebrows. Why would anybody do that to such perfect hair!

I would have given ANYTHING to be this girl

But having seen the play, I love the locks. The eyebrows can please get the ef out, but I love the locks. It is such an essential part of Richard’s character and it encompasses everything there is to know about him: his confidence, his privileging of the aesthetic over the practical, his femininity, his passivity. It’s just amazing. And I can see why Tennant keeps them in even in his off-time, but he has certainly learned how to own the hair oh-so-naturally.

And while we’re on the never-ending subject of how perfect David Tennant is, can I just say how perfect David Tennant is? His acting choices always surprise me, and yet they feel so natural and essential. Every word and gesture is deliberate and important, and yet it never seems like his performance is overly calculated or over-the-top. He has an obvious passion and intellect for the text, and seems like the perfect person to pore over a book with.  David, please join my book club.

This king takes his throne, y'all.
This king takes his throne, y’all.

Of course, the play is about more than just Richard II’s reign; it’s also about the guy who kills him. Richard is deposed via methods that are just as deceitful as his reign. There’s tons of ambiguity in this play– who killed who? did he really order that guy killed? did that kiss actually really just happen?– and Richard’s successor Henry Bollingbroke, while different in personality, turns out to be just as crafty.

But you know. Without the hair.

Richard II was performed at an incredibly unique space in London called The Barbican. I’ve visited this space once before and it really feels like the future of theatrical spaces. First of all, this space doesn’t just house a theater. It is also home to a school, a night club, a restaurant, a gallery, and several other venues. It’s kind of an all-for-one go-to stop for culture. The closest thing in New York might be The Public Theater in the East Village, or possibly Lincoln Center without the schmaltz. Secondly, the Barbican theater space is super comfortable. There’s plenty of legroom, and no seat is a bad seat. The only theater I’ve been in that has felt better than this is the Olivier Theater at the National Theater in London. Spaces like this make theater feel more accessible, and attract a wider audience than those that might typically see a Shakespeare play, or really any play for that matter.

Okay, this concludes Part I of my London Theater Reflections/Fangirling. Next up I’ll talk about a VERY different play that has been earning rave reviews called Mojo and some not so fun theatrical spaces.

Announcement Fun Time!


I’m going to London Y’ALL. From December 26 to January 1, I will be pretending that I am a native Brit and I will basically be spending my time doing the exact same things I would have done had I stayed in New York and saved myself $3000 seeing lots of plays, eating lots of food, spending tons of money, and other hopelessly touristic things!

I’ll definitely be writing about everything I see whilst there. As of now, the lineup is Richard II starring David Tennant, the new American Psycho musical, and the critically-lauded revival of Mojo.

Giggity giggity


Giggity Squared

I’m also planning on getting a ticket to see The Drowned Man, Punchdrunk’s latest immersive theater experience since Sleep No More.



Five Current British Shows You Should Watch

I know it’s hard to realize that there’s more to British television than Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Downton Abbey. That there’s a (not so) vast realm of BBC and ITV and E4 just waiting to be seen. Or even that you can actually watch something else in between Breaking Bad episodes.

Here’s an expanding list of current or recently-aired television series from Kate Middleton’s child’s playground that have done amazingly well for themselves and probably would have been cancelled in America because they’re so good.

1. The Fall

Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan play detective and killer on “The Fall”

My latest television-binge has been The Fall, a five-part psychological crime thriller which has been renewed for season 2 by the BBC. Detective Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is brought in extra special to help the Belfast police track down a serial killer of young, professional women in the city. We the audience, however, already know the killer. It’s father-of-two Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), whose work as a grief counselor and dad seem to leave him more than a little emasculated.

Instead of focusing the plot on the actual casework, like so many other redundant crime dramas out there, The Fall is much more about the psychology of gender and of Paul’s killing. We follow Paul as he continues to kill, and we see how his personal life, his insecurities, and his brilliance are all brought out in the performance of the crime.  Stella, as a detached, self-sufficient, successful, and sometimes provocative woman, is Paul’s foil, and much of the show’s depth lies in the doubling of the two characters. Even in the first two minutes of the show, we see both characters taking off their “masks”– for one it’s her skin cleansing mask, for another it’s his people-killing mask. The show is like a study in gender performance, but it never loses track of its main goal, which is getting into the heads of its amazing characters. Both Dornan and Anderson are chillingly subtle in their performances, which is a nice change from the super charisma or dramatic broodiness of most crime drama leads. It’s available on Netflix Instant.

2. Rev.

Tom Hollander’s a boss.

I first got hooked on Rev. a few years ago when it first premiered and it has slowly gained momentum, especially after surprisingly winning Best Sitcom at the British Academy of Television Awards in 2011. It’s about a Anglican priest named Adam Smallbone who is working out of a small parish in one of the dodgiest neighborhoods in East London. He struggles with the church’s rapidly diminishing influence, money, and population, a conniving archbishop, and the parish’s MANY odd characters. And it’s hilarious. The cast, led by Tom Hollander and HBIC Olivia Colman, bring such warmth, humor, and nuance to the show.

It’s also got INCREDIBLE heart. Adam Smallbone is an infinitely complex and real character.  He’s a flawed, quite tangible, character who struggles with his faith and his moral challenges as much as any of us do. The show never takes religion or faith for granted. It’s something that Adam is constantly working towards and learning through. It makes for some great humor, but also for some great catharsis at the end. Rev. has two seasons up on Hulu, and was renewed for a third to be aired in 2014.

3. Broadchurch


This show left me in a daze for about a week. Brilliantly-acted, beautifully-filmed, suspenseful, emotional, dramatic television series make Sara happy. And yup, David Tennant’s still got it. And he’s swiping Arthur Darvill’s mouth with a q-tip. I mean, that alone!!

Now that I’ve calmed down, Broadchurch is about the investigation of the murder of an adolescent boy in a small coastal town where everyone is a suspect. Leading the investigation are Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), who has just returned from maternity leave, and Alec Hardy (Tennant), who has taken her place and is a total douchebag about it. Theirs is a relationship that has proven ripe for fanfiction. Each episode focuses (more or less) on the possible culpability of a different towns-person, starting with the boy’s father and ending with –HAHA WOOPS I CAN’T SAY . This structure means things can get a bit predictable. I guessed the killer one or two episodes before the finale, which I’m usually pretty terrible at doing. But never mind that because there’s so much raw intensity, so much emotional intrigue, and so many dramatic shots of David Tennant walking through a beach, it’s well worth your while.  Broadchurch is hoping to attract Doctor Who fans on BBC America, which aired Spies of Warsaw with the same intention, except I was totally not wasting my time on a long-winded movie in which Tennant doesn’t even have sideburns nor ruffable hair. Broadchurch airs on BBCA on August 7. It’s also been renewed for a second season by ITV.

4. Misfits

Misfits Original Cast

Misfits is the longest-running series of the bunch, already having wrapped up its fourth season and renewed for a fifth and final season. It’s been through a lot of changes since it first aired and now has none of its original cast left. To be honest, I haven’t seen much of season four, so I’m not up to date on the show’s current direction.

But seasons 1-3 are definitely some of the most unique, fresh, and smartest series of television you might ever find, particularly when it comes to television comedies. Misfits is about a group of delinquents in community service who get caught in a crazy lightning storm and find out that they’ve got superpowers. As the series continues, they learn that they’re not the only ones with superpowers. Fun plots ensue.

There are several brilliant components to this idea. First of all, what happens when you give superpowers to juvenile delinquents who are facing all the anxieties, pressures, and pleasures of being young adults? This particular group has extremely diverse personalities and goals, ranging from the once-promising athlete Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) to the loud and terribly obnoxious Nathan (Robert Sheehan) who doesn’t seem to envision much of a future for himself at all. Another brilliant component of this idea is that the characters’ superpowers are all reflective of their insecurities and fears. The boy with no friends gets to be invisible. The girl who fears what other people think of her gets to read minds. This is how you get characters to have a personal stake in what’s happening to them.

Misfits at its best is hilarious, unpredictable, and pretty flipping addicting.  You can watch it on Hulu.

5. Luther

Get it, get it.

Of this bunch, Luther has probably made the most successful jump to America. Its star, Idris Elba, has won a Golden Globe for the role and might get his Oscar nod for the upcoming Nelson Mandela biopic. Also, my classmate referred to him once as ‘Chocolate Thunder,’ which I think is as important to mention as the awards stuff.

Luther is another detective show with great actors, great writing, and all that good stuff. But what really stands out to me is how wonderfully complex its plots are. Now, I’m not talking about Steven Moffat-complex. (Now that I wrote that, there should be something called a Steven Moffat complex). Nah, Luther-complex means that the crimes have roots in some tremendous issues, some of them societal, others more personal. Each episode feels rather weighty (in a good way) with all the exploration that can be done. Luther himself is also a great character to follow, particularly when it comes to his marital issues in season 1. Luther’s third season just premiered in the UK and hopefully it will be up on BBCA and/or Netflix Instant where you can find its other two seasons.

Trying to Watch ITV’s Broadchurch

No one’s getting in the way of me watching British television
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills that involve googling my computer problems. Skills that make it seem like I actually understand how media players work. If you prevent me from watching my download of ITV’s Broadchurch (starring David Tennant) because my DivX player can’t play the audio file, that’ll be the end of it. I will not wait for it to come on PBS, I will not do my homework instead. I will look for the codec, I will find the proper conversion software, and I will kill you.”

I’m sooooo excited! I already watched the first episode and it’s brilliant.

Continue reading “Trying to Watch ITV’s Broadchurch”

Did Steven Moffat “Destroy” Doctor Who?

Up until recently, I had believed that every Doctor Who fan was in some type of ecstatic love/dream state, ready to follow Matt Smith, Steven Moffat, and the rest of the merry TARDIS crew into whatever series 7 had to bring. It wasn’t until the mysterious scandal of the Moffat twitter deletion (one blog’s heading read “The Man Who Destroyed Doctor Who Left Twitter”) that I realized that the Internet vs. Steven Moffat had actually been… well… happening.

\\Beware…long post ahead// Continue reading “Did Steven Moffat “Destroy” Doctor Who?”

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: