By William Shakespeare
Director: Tim Carroll
Cast includes: Mark Rylance, Roger Lloyd Pack, Colin Hurley, Liam Brennan, Johnny Flynn, James Garnon, Samuel Barnett, Peter Hamilton Dryer
Venue: The Globe Theatre
Until October 13th, 2012
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes, with interval
Review by Luke Neima
Richard III is back at the Globe; in April the Chinese National Theatre put on a production in Mandarin as part of the Globe to Globe festival, and now director Tim Carroll returns Shakespeare's best loved history to its native tongue.
One of Shakespeare's most celebrated talents as a writer is his ability to consistently surprise his audience with nothing more than a carefully chosen word. Tim Carroll, and designer Jenny Tiramani, follow the bard's example in creating a production of careful detail. The excellent period costumes are made all the more realistic by the occasional potbelly, scenes are punctuated with period-style music composed for the production by Claire von Kampen, and the work features, in Jacobean tradition, an all-male cast. This attention to detail spills over into the portrayal of the characters: Liam Brennan's depiction of the Lord Mayor's weakness in the face of Buckingham and Gloucester is enhanced by his evidently reddened nose, Colin Hurley's representation of King Edward IV features a telling wheeze, and Paul Chahidi's portrayal of Hastings is accentuated by a tone of continual sarcasm that casts an element of doubt over all his assertions. Detailed, idiosyncratic interpretations of the characters grow them away from the set types they might risk becoming in a weaker production.
It is Mark Rylance's subtle interpretation of Richard III, though, that makes this production truly outstanding. Rylance, the Globe's original Artistic Director, returns with an inspired and entirely original interpretation of the mad King. Shakespeare's source, Thomas More, describes Richard as an exaggeratedly disfigured and evil villain; Rylance blunts More's depiction into a soft-spoken, stuttering dissimulator. At points he is almost too likeable in his charming appeals to the audience, yet it is this balance of charm and amorality that makes Shakespeare's anti-hero so fascinating in the first place. Rylance's stuttered, absent-minded delivery of Richard's lines creates the illusion that he is making them up as he goes along, an impressive feat when the words are as polished as Shakespeare's. The portrayal of Richard's decline is subtle, too; throughout the play Gloucester's stuttering, distractibility, and forgetfulness waver between being a tool of dissemblance and a symptom of madness, and so Richard's ultimate loss of control over these allows for a death that is less about poetic justice than about succumbing to fatal, internal flaws.
Richard III is somewhere between tragedy and comedy. The Globe production does an outstanding job of bringing out the comic in the work, while still maintaining the more horrifying elements of Richard's cruel machinations. But comic is what works best at the Globe, catering as it does to the open seating and long-suffering standing audience, and comic is what the production delivers. The players are continually engaging with their audience, bringing back the Shakespeare of the people that has always persisted in the bawdy jokes and lewd references underlying the plays. Roger Lloyd Pack as Buckingham epitomizes this approach as he demands the audience echo his cheers for Richard during the coronation scene, and the integration of the crowd as citizens is both well received and natural. Throughout the play, Rylance manages to cleverly balance his inhabitation of the theatrical world with natural asides to the crowd, further cultivating the sense of an ever-performing manipulator that is so central to his character. The wooing of Lady Anne, played somewhat woodenly by Johnny Flynn, might have fallen flat but for Rylance's engagement with a third party - the audience - who managed to lend substance and comic gravity to his falsified fits of passion.
Like most presentations of Shakespeare's second longest play, Tim Carroll's Richard III is abridged, but this is done with a sense of economy that allows the play to thrive deprived of the background of the Henry VI series. The production is a triumph, and a rare opportunity to see Shakespeare's greatest anti-hero in a comic guise that, if unusual, is nonetheless fascinating.
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