Mark Rylance is back on stage at the Globe in this all-male production of 'Richard III'. In former times, from 1995 to 2005 to be precise, he was artistic director at the venue, so he should know the way in at least! And there is more to come because he will also be appearing from September at the same address as Olivia in another all-male production, this time of 'Twelfth Night'.
In the past few years, I have been fortunate to see Mr Rylance in an extraordinary variety of plays. He was the innocent school chum in 'Boeing, Boeing', a nightmarish beast in 'La Bête', and more recently struck gold with the enormously successful 'Jerusalem' in which he played a singular drug-dealing, caravan-dwelling character called Rooster Byron. It would seem that Mr Rylance relishes the opportunity to take on unusual, distinctive characters and 'Richard III' is certainly one from the same mould.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester and later Richard III, finds the peace which has broken out in England unpalatable. Unlike his fellows at court, he does not seem to be able to while away the time in idle pursuits and has devised a plan for making 'mischief' and 'proving a villain' by getting rid of everyone who stands in his way of becoming King, and that includes his own brothers.
Described by Anne (the woman he has decided to marry) as a 'minister of hell' and a 'lump of foul deformity', Mr Rylance's Richard is nevertheless not aggressively evil or overtly villainous. On the contrary, for much of the time he is calm and almost unassuming, especially when he is pretending to be the devoted, hat-doffing, loyal subject and concerned brother. Occasionally jocular, he displays little sign of simmering anger or smouldering menace in his manner,. But when his rage does surface it explodes like a volcano which has been bubbling under enormous pressure for centuries. There's not much evidence of the deformed back which many of us have come to expect as standard from this well-known character. However, Richard's left hand is merely the size of a child's and hangs useless at his chest, and he walks with a pronounced limp. In some ways, Mark Rylance's restrained approach does not sit well with what other characters, Anne in particular, seem to know about him.
The Globe is not always the best venue to hear dialogue clearly. Hovering helicopters, noisy jets passing overhead and an enormous auditorium are all factors which can often impede one's ability to hear exactly what the actors are saying. But in this 'Richard III' the clarity of diction is simply superb - you would be hard-pressed to miss a single word of the dialogue from any of the characters in this production.
Mark Rylance is exceptionally well-supported by a very impressive all-male cast. Roger Lloyd Pack is the scheming fixer Buckingham who connives with Richard to win him the crown. James Garnon as Richard's mother, Duchess of York, seems to glide on casters as the hem of his dress never ruffles even fractionally as he moves across the stage. And Samuel Barnett as Queen Elizabeth and Johnny Flynn as Lady Anne invest their female roles with elegance, dignity and poise. The recipe for success is sealed with very fine costumes and authoritative direction from Tim Carroll. But this production will be remembered for Mark Rylance's intriguing and unique interpretation of the central character, which is both hugely compelling and totally absorbing.
"Refreshing, challenging, bold in its way."
Dominic Cavendish for The Daily Telegraph
"Carroll’s production, which has cut a fair amount of the text, is lucid. Yet in places it seems a bit flat and underpowered."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"A fascinating, deeply unconventional Richard that will grow even richer with time."
Michael Billington for The Guardian