With a flamboyant spirit of true ingenuity Mark Rylance is maintaining the Globe's reputation for innovation with this first all-female production of Shakespeare's Richard III. Novelty value aside, it's certainly a bold decision to stage the play in such a fashion and happily, perhaps despite expectation, in many ways the production, played in Elizabethan costume, works surprisingly well.
Much inevitably hinges on the eponymous villain, a brilliant example of political fabrication that could put the modern house of spin to shame. Kathryn Hunter is well cast as 'the poisonous toad', the hunchbacked Richard who she plays not so much impeded as utterly ruled by deformity, a figure consumed by his own physical state and whose flashes of malevolent humour are only the light reflections of a rapacious, merciless and overwhelmingly ambitious character. Hunter's mobile face conveys Richard's intelligence and insouciance excellently and what she sometimes lacks in vehemence she compensates for with the sort of sardonic wit that resembles a black-widow spider priming its intended prey, soft blandishments disguising a deadly purpose. Limping around the stage, a diminutive figure of great malice, this is a convincing interpretation of the role carried off with great aplomb.
Amongst the rest of the cast there's much to enjoy too for Richard III has some terrific minor roles, here specifically memorable Linda Bassett's Queen Margaret, Rachel Sanders' Duke of Clarence and, best of all, Amanda Harris' scheming Buckingham, with two fine Princes in the Tower contributed by Laura Rogers and Liza Hayden. Yes, there are moments when the play's militant tone makes the all-female dynamic feel a mite uncomfortable but theatre often asks one to suspend reality and on this basis there's certainly much to applaud.
(Production photo by Donald Cooper)
Next review is from a *preview* performance from one of our readers
All-male productions at The Globe have become a regular feature over the past few years, so this first all-female production comes as a bit of a novelty, but don’t go to this play expecting this novelty to be the centre point of your attention. As with all-male productions, the sex of the actor ceases to matter if the character is played well and this production boasts a great ensemble cast, the majority of whom play multiple parts. But unsurprisingly, the evening belongs to Kathryn Hunter in the title role.
Ms Hunter must be one of the shortest actors to have played this role (hardly taller than the throne she pushes on stage), but she uses this to her advantage, playing Richard as a mischievous rascal who impishly bounds around the stage, tongue darting in and out, but also firmly in cheek as she mugs at the audience, sharing thoughts and jokes. Although there are many humorous touches to the interpretation, the audience never loses the sense of the cunning brain behind the actions, some of which literally come back to haunt Richard, and actions that seemed funny the first time are simply menacing when repeated.
Specific praise should also go to Linda Bassett as Margaret who gives a masterclass in cursing and Liza Hayden as a murderer of Clarence and the young Prince of Wales who creates rounded and extremely funny characters in an instant. The scene with the young Princes has never been better and there is also an effectively stylised battle sequence which uses the limited stage space well, although the usual problems with the Globe (pillars and ‘planes) will never be solved.
Kathryn Hunter’s tiny form dominates the stage from her first dramatic entrance to the traditional final dance, but although this must be one of the most performed of Shakespeare’s plays, this company have continued the Globe tradition of fresh interpretation by making the story come first and it has proved to be an excellent choice for the first all-female production.
What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Daring troupe of actresses...in triumph." BENEDICT NIGHGTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "The production’s strengths include Amanda Harris’s cool, smooth Buckingham and Linda Bassett’s grim, rasping Queen Margaret." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "[Kathryn] Hunter succeeds admirably." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "Without Hunter at its centre this would not be a goer." CHARLES SPENCER for DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "The whole production seems like a perversely modish exercise in political correctness."
External links to full reviews from newspapers...