John Gielgud in Richard II

John Gielgud in Richard II

This is a scene from Richard II at the Queen's Theatre in 1937, with John Gielgud as Richard and Peggy Ashcroft as the Queen. It was unusual to see Shakespeare in the West End as producers were not convinced that the plays would attract audiences and were reluctant to take financial risks.

Gielgud had been working with the Old Vic company who were staging affordable, cheaply mounted productions and he had recently starred as Hamlet on Broadway. His status as a matinee idol gave him sufficient clout to lease the Queen's Theatre for a season. He intended to develop his ideas about Shakespeare and other classics with a West End budget. He began the season with this production of Richard II which he directed himself in the style of the actor-managers of the 18th and 19th centuries (although without making the play into a star vehicle for himself, as some of his predecessors had).