David Tennant's long-haired Richard II rules at RSC

David Tennant as Richard II Tennant's hair "takes some getting used to" wrote one newspaper critic

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David Tennant's latest role sees him transformed into a king with flowing locks in the Royal Shakespeare Company's (RSC) Richard II.

Early reviews have noted Tennant's "mesmerising" performance and "Christ-like" hair.

Richard II is the former Doctor Who star's first RSC role since his acclaimed Hamlet five years ago.

Tennant and the cast won enthusiastic applause on Thursday's opening night in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The production transfers to the Barbican in London in December.

It reunites Tennant with Hamlet director Gregory Doran, who is now in charge at the RSC.

Starting with Richard II, Doran intends to stage each one of Shakespeare's plays once over the next six years up to 2019.

Written almost entirely in verse, Richard II is a story of power and plotting in which the king's weakness and vanity threatens to drag his people into a civil war.

Jane Lapotaire as the Duchess of Gloucester Award-winning actress Jane Lapotaire stars as the Duchess of Gloucester

In the cast alongside Tennant are Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt, Nigel Lindsay as Henry Bolingbroke, Oliver Ford Davies as the Duke of York and Jane Lapotaire as the Duchess of Gloucester.

The play opens with a funeral lament sung live by a small choir, after which Tennant's smooth-chinned, long-haired Richard arrives in a flowing white robe, in sharp contrast to those around him in chain-mail or mourning black.

In another scene he preens his rock-star locks in a mirror.

"His hair takes some getting used to," notes The Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish. "Great gingery-brown extensions trail girlishly downwards. Long, magisterial, quasi-medieval robes add to the effeminate impression.

"With his startled eyes and concentrated frown, Tennant is frail, pale and consistently interesting but the nervous energy he excels in is confined to quarters early on."

Tennant gives a "mesmerising performance that grows in power as Richard's authority declines," according to Michael Billington in The Guardian.

"The packed houses for this production's run in both Stratford and at the Barbican may have much to do with Tennant's star presence. But this is the strongest company the RSC has fielded in years."

The Independent's Paul Taylor called it "another palpable hit for the Tennant/Doran collaboration".

Recent star-name portrayals of Richard II include Eddie Redmayne at the Donmar Warehouse in 2011 and Ben Whishaw's Bafta-winning TV performance in the BBC's The Hollow Crown last year.

Tennant told The Independent recently Richard II was a play he had loved since drama school when he saw a production with Sir Derek Jacobi.

(l-r) Michael Pennington (John of Gaunt), Oliver Ford Davies (Duke of York) Michael Pennington stars as John of Gaunt among a notable ensemble cast

"It's quite unknowable," he said. "There are no heroes and villains in it, just people trying their best and not managing to get on with their lives."

Tennant's association with the RSC goes back to 1996 when, aged 25, he played Touchstone in As You Like It.

His other RSC appearances include Romeo and Juliet, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's Lost and The Rivals.

By the time he played the Prince of Denmark in Doran's modern-dress Hamlet in 2008, Tennant was a household name because of his lead role in Doctor Who.

Tennant's last Shakespearean stage role was Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing in the West End in 2011, alongside his former Tardis companion Catherine Tate as Beatrice.

He will be appearing alongside Matt Smith in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary story, The Day of the Doctor, on BBC One on 23 November.

Richard II is at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, until to 16 November and at the Barbican Theatre, London, from 9 December to 25 January. It will be broadcast live on 13 November to cinemas across the UK.

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