Shakespeare Has Words for Trump, Dr. Who Actor Tennant Says

  • Four plays about kings and country are mounted in Brooklyn
  • Henry V performance gathers patrons Thomas Kempner, Adam Max

The Scottish actor David Tennant had just returned from Wizard World Comic Con in St. Louis, where he’d greeted fans who know him as the 10th doctor in“Dr. Who."

“There was a large arch outside my hotel room window, it’s the gateway to the west or something?" Tennant said Sunday evening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where he is performing as Richard II with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

And yes, his starring role in a play about a kingship has given him some insight into the U.S. presidential election.

“It’s interesting doing this play here now, with everything that’s going on. The certainty of some deluded individuals -- it has an interesting resonance to Richard II."

Two kings: David Tennant (Richard II) and Alex Hassell (Henry V)
Two kings: David Tennant (Richard II) and Alex Hassell (Henry V)
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Tennant elaborated about the historical figure he plays, whose tomb he visited in preparation for the role: “Richard’s tragedy is he doesn’t really imagine there will ever be a Henry V -- he has no sense of his part in a progression. He simply sees his dominion over all. That moment when he realizes his kingdom has fallen apart, and he says ‘I live with bread like you,’ for him, it’s an admission, something he never dared say to himself, that I am a mortal human being and I’m just like you."

So what would Richard II say to Trump? “Stop It! Shhhh!" Tennant said.

And where would Trump belong in the Shakespeare canon? “I don’t think there’s anyone in these plays quite as absurd as Donald Trump," said Gregory Doran, artistic director of Royal Shakespeare Company.

Adam Max and Dinyar Devitre
Adam Max and Dinyar Devitre
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Well, there is Falstaff. Doran joked there had been a thought to give Falstaff a gold comb over. Antony Sher, who plays him, didn’t see a resemblance. “Falstaff is vulnerable, which Trump never is, which makes Trump so charmless," Sher said. “Trump is not a Falstaff figure, except that he overwhelms situations."

Thomas and Kathryn Kempner
Thomas and Kathryn Kempner
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

In addition to Richard II, the company is also performing Henry IV Part I and II and Henry V. This is the play that patrons including Thomas Kempner, head of Davidson Kempner Capital Management, and Adam Max, managing partner of Jordan Co., and former Altria Group Inc. Chief Financial Officer Dinyar Devitre saw on Sunday. Actors and RSC crew then joined them at a buffet dinner reception (the Falstaffian sit-down banquet had been served for lunch).

“This play was a fascinating examination of leadership and maturation in all the different forms, whether it’s political, in business or in the family," Max said. “What made the performance so compelling were the physical and vocal manifestations of his growth. It’s so subtle but definitive."

“The sense that he’s learning as a leader, as a person, is important," said Alex Hassell, who plays Henry V. “He’s trying to get a good grip on what a good leader is, what the country needs, and is brave enough to attempt to do something really big."

The four plays will run at BAM through May 1. Standby tickets only are available for Richard II starring Tennant.

(An earlier version of this story corrected the spelling of the artistic director’s last name.)

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