Richard of Bordeaux (play)

Richard of Bordeaux (play)

"Richard of Bordeaux" is a play by Gordon Daviot (pseudonym for Elizabeth Macintosh) that depicts the story of Richard II of England in a romantic fashion, emphasizing the relationship between Richard and his queen Anne of Bohemia. Daviot wrote the play after seeing John Gielgud play Shakespeare's "Richard II" at the Old Vic Theatre, and submitted it to him for production. Gielgud had reservations about the play but agreed to test it out for two matinee performances at the Arts Theatre.

Gielgud finally recognized the play's potential and directed it with himself as Richard at the New Theatre in February of 1932. Prior to that production, Gielgud was regarded as a highly respected classical actor based on his performances at the Old Vic, but the overwhelming success of "Richard of Bordeaux" catapulted him into the status of superstar. The play ran for over a year in the West End (a substantial run for its time).

It went on to play in the British provinces many times, first on the original tour with Gielgud, then with other actors, on tour and in repertory revivals. Michael Redgrave played Richard at Liverpool Playhouse, and John Clements at the Intimate Theatre in Palmer's Green.

The play crossed the Atlantic to Broadway in 1934 with Dennis King as Richard, but without Gielgud in the role, the play ran for only 38 performances.

Gielgud tried to make one of his (then) rare film appearances in the role in the 1930s and teamed with Alexander Korda to produce it, but the project fell through. He later tried to persuade Dirk Bogarde to play the part on film in the 1960s, but to no avail. Probably because its brand of 1930s pacifism became discredited as appeasement, the play is rarely revived. However, Laurence Payne played the King at the old theatre at Guildford after the War, when Kenneth Williams was John Maudelyn.

The play was performed on television in 1938 with Andrew Osborn as Richard and the original Queen Anne, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies. Peter Cushing starred in 1955 in another BBC television version, which survives and has been shown at the National Film Theatre.

For BBC radio, Griffith Jones played the young King in 1946. Gielgud himself reprised his stage role at the microphone in 1941 and 1952. Some of the latter broadcast can be heard on a commercially released recording of Gielgud's audio work. Martin Jarvis was well-received as Richard in a 1974 radio production.

Nicola Upson's detective novel "An Expert In Murder" (a quote from the play) was published in 2008, and has been serialised on BBC radio. It weaves a whodunnit plot around the original West End production.


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