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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
RICHARD III
at Shakespeare’s Globe

HUNGRY FOR THE THRONE
By MICHAEL COVENEY

  Samuel Barnett and James Garnon/ Ph: Simon Annand

Mark Rylance had a very hard act to follow in his own incarnation as Johnny “Rooster” Byron in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, but he’s found an equal, stage-hogging challenge in Richard III, returning to the scene of so many triumphs during his time at Shakespeare’s Globe as the theatre’s first artistic director for 10 years (1996- 2006).
 
Not only that, he will also reprise his matchless Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night later in the season, and both productions, which are co-presented with producer Sonia Friedman, will move into the West End in early November.
 
It seems that Rylance, who suffered the loss of his 28-year-old stepdaughter Nataasha van Kampen in early July (and withdrew from the Olympic Games opening ceremony as a result), is embarked on another great stage adventure that might well bring him back to New York.
 
His Richard, as you’d expect, is a complete surprise. In a production by Tim Carroll that revives some of the “original practices” – Elizabethan costume, an all-male cast and music (by Rylance’s wife, Claire van Kampen) played on shawms, sackbuts and recorders – that Rylance championed in his artistic reign, he plays a childish buffoon who smiles his way to the throne in a murderous tantrum.
 
He’s almost merry in his demeanour, chuckling through his opening soliloquy with the odd tell-tale manic cackle, a pallid left hand clamped to his chest, a cape disguising any deformity lurking within his puffy-sleeved stripy jerkin, right leg splayed in a hint of a hobble.
 
When Laurence Olivier played Othello, he entered sniffing sultrily at a red rose. Rylance toys with a white one, a symbol of the house of York in the civil wars, and hands it flirtatiously to a woman in the pit. He has no visible hump or ski-slope nose, no clanking callipers or leather gloves. He’s merely a warped, strange version of an English royal.
 
We could rephrase that: He’s an English royal, but with the manners and schemes of a rapacious gangster. This Crookback, with the disguised speech impediment – everything about Richard is an act of will, a performance, an adoptive persona – seems bent on murder and preferment for the sheer fun – no, kinkiness – of the adventure.
 
I’ve never seen a Richard so calm and boyish, so keen to please and to destroy at the same time, so airily and breezily evil, rather like the strange young men who haunt shopping malls and late-night cinema screenings with guns and gas canisters. At least Richard kills children knowingly and gets someone else to do the dirty work.
 
Rylance is not the “elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog” or “bunch-backed toad” of legendary performance traditions, partly because he has somehow subsumed his deformity in a placid exterior, but also because his most vituperative adversary, the cursing Queen Margaret, does not appear in this production at all.
 
It’s a loss, but not a great one when you consider the awkwardness of some Margarets – Gemma Jones, for instance, in the Kevin Spacey Old Vic version – who are reduced to wailing whingers on the sidelines. There’s feminine resistance enough in Samuel Barnett’s stern and sedate Queen Elizabeth, Colin Harnon’s comical dowager of a Duchess, Richard’s mother, and the striking Lady Anne of Johnny Flynn (who doubles as a flaxen-haired traitor, Grey).
 
There are other cuts, too, which brings in the curtain well under the three-hour mark, and a constant flow of incident and tension on the stage thanks to a growling, compliant Buckingham from Roger Lloyd Pack, a sharp and telling double from Peter Hamilton Dyer as Brackenbury and Catesby, and another outstanding contribution from Paul Chahidi as a waspish Hastings and a snivelling Tyrell.
 
But of course it’s Rylance who runs the whole show, actually manipulating the action from his throne once he’s settled there, dreaming the ghost sequence while stuck in a chair at Bosworth Field, transforming his soliloquies into one-sided conversations with the audience in a way no other actor can equal, and finally springing from the depths of the stage in full armour for that bootless call for a horse.
 
And he lies still, destroyed at last, as the company go into their usual high-spirited jig at the curtain calls, rising like a ghost at his own feast, defying his own disability, “not shaped for sportive tricks,” and strutting as any courtier before a wanton ambling nymph.
 


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