Bridgerton’s Jonathan Bailey to play Richard II on London stage

<span>‘Delicacy and interiority’ … Jonathan Bailey as Richard II.</span><span>Photograph: Jason Bell</span>
‘Delicacy and interiority’ … Jonathan Bailey as Richard II.Photograph: Jason Bell

Bridgerton’s Jonathan Bailey is to play Richard II in a new production of Shakespeare’s history play directed by Nicholas Hytner at the Bridge theatre in London.

It will reunite the star with Hytner, whose version of Othello at the National Theatre in 2013 featured Bailey as Cassio. Bailey also played Edgar opposite Ian McKellen’s King Lear at Chichester Festival theatre in 2017. But the part of the Plantagenet monarch will be the highest profile Shakespeare role to date for the actor, who is best known for playing Lord Anthony Bridgerton in Netflix’s blockbuster period drama. Performances will begin at the Bridge on 10 February.

The question asked by Shakespeare’s Richard II, said Hytner, is: “What do you do when a ruler is absolutely inadequate? How do you get rid of the rightful leader?” The play has an ambiguity characteristic of Shakespeare, who does not “give us his own opinion”, said Hytner. “On the one hand, the play endorses Richard’s right to rule and on the other hand it appears to endorse [his adversary] Bolingbroke’s greater capacity to rule.” The production will reveal “a feudal world on the cusp of modernity” he said.

It will be designed by Bob Crowley and staged in what Hytner described as “a cross between in-the-round and traverse”, rather than the immersive, promenade style of Hytner’s Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which brought audiences up close to the actors at the Bridge. “Richard II has a delicacy and interiority that isn’t going to respond to that kind of treatment,” he said, adding that the theatre – which opened by Tower Bridge in 2017 – is a very flexible space.

Richard II will follow Guys and Dolls which has run at the venue since March 2023 and will have its last performance on 4 January. “We didn’t think it would last as long as it did,” said Hytner, who explained that the long run of the widely acclaimed musical had given the theatre “a bit of financial stability”. He wanted to stage a musical in the same spirit in which he had done Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Guys and Dolls was the right choice for that kind of treatment, because it has a big, robust heart and there’s a direct appeal to the audience, a connection that allows you to plunge straight into it.”

The Bridge is the flagship venue of London Theatre Company which was founded by Hytner and Nick Starr. Its other space is Lightroom in King’s Cross, where an immersive David Hockney exhibition has returned for another run, alongside a multimedia experience about the Apollo Moon landings. It will eventually host live performance too. “The very long term plan is that it’s a theatre, but it’s working so well and we have so many things in the pipeline in that [multimedia] form that I can’t say when,” said Hytner.