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Richard III at Shakespeare’s Globe

Published 19 November 2012

For anyone who missed this summer’s hot ticket as Mark Rylance returned to his former home at Shakespeare’s Globe, winter comes with its own hot offering, Rylance’s return to the West End in the alfresco venue’s double bill transfer.

His original summer performance in Richard III, which plays in rep with Twelfth Night, was described by my Official London Theatre colleague as “less Stalin, more Boris Johnson”, a description it’s hard to, in this second outing for the show, better.  If Johnson was a sociopathic monster that is…

Tim Carroll’s production may have moved into the safety of the indoors, but there are no extra safety precautions for the characters we see getting ready as we enter, lacing up their bodices and conducting bizarre facial warm-ups as the audience take their seats, seemingly unaware of the blood bath that is about to take place from which most of them will have no escape.

Performed on a barely there set, just pinewood panels and dozens of candles to set the scene, Rylance once again steals the three hours with a performance of the power hungry title character who slaughters his way to the top as terrifying and gruesomely grotesque as you could wish for. What’s not so expected is the wit Rylance injects into every scene, proving there’s nothing so frightening as a villain who can make you laugh, one whose next unpredictable move could be to smile sweetly alongside you or rage with a fevered bloodthirsty frustration.

He bounces like a child when there is scheming to be done, caresses his withered hand against his chest as he licks his lips with glee at the thought of another hideous deed and unwittingly captures the audience as conspirators with an opening scene that throws everything you thought you knew about the character out of the window.

Rarely off stage for the entire performance, it’s undoubtedly Rylance’s show, but he paves the way for others in the all-male ensemble to shine. Samuel Barnett  offers a perfectly pitched performance as Queen Elizabeth, floating around the stage with grace before transforming into a heartbroken woman in a truly unbearable heart wrenching performance, spitting venom laced words at Richard with admirable strength, while James Garnon is formidable as the monarch’s Mother, proving there’s always one person who can cut you down to size, no matter how big you get for your kingly boots.

While the Globe may have retired inside for the winter, this production loses as little as possible of the audience interaction the venue is so famous for. You can even watch the show from the stage if you so wish. Just watch out for your head.


Previous review from Shakespeare’s Globe, by Matthew Amer:

All eyes were on Mark Rylance as he was crowned Richard III at Shakespeare’s Globe.

It was inevitable. The return of the original Artistic Director of the iconic London venue, who ran the Shakespearean theatre for a decade, whose name is never far from phrases like ‘outstanding actor of his generation’; everyone wanted to know how would the stage behemoth shape up as Shakespeare’s charismatic villain.

While we’re talking shape, this Richard doesn’t have a classic hunchback. With a withered left arm he is more Scary Movie than Hunchback Of Notre Dame.

He doesn’t come across as an evil genius either, despite the plotting and homicidal tendencies that see him bump off friends and family in his desperation to claim the English throne. Instead Rylance has him stuttering unsurely, grasping at ideas and almost bumbling his way through his blood-soaked rise to the top.

If his ascent is framed with comedy, once the crown is nestled on Rylance’s head conscience begins to take its toll and madness grips hard as his Richard percolates with paranoia and sees his support dissolve.

Though Rylance’s central performance is undoubtedly the main attraction, the enigmatic actor is usually the first to push attention towards his ensemble, and while he dominates the Globe stage as if he had never been away, James Garnon manages to put him in his place both as a brilliantly disapproving mother, who is one step away from trying to send him to his room, and as the swashbuckling source of light to vanquish Richard’s darkness, Richmond.

Colin Hurley too is memorable as an Edward IV with a breathing issue that makes Darth Vader sound stress free, who wears his kingly robe like an old dressing gown in a picture of regal frailty.

But it will be Rylance who steals the headlines once more, and rightly so. The king has returned, just not the one you might have expected. This Richard is light on tension and a sense of sinister, calculated plotting, but high on bumbling comedy; less Stalin, more Boris Johnson.


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