Theatre Review: 10 August
Mark Rylance delivers a performance that’s big on frills, low on thrills
Whether you've seen the play or not, you probably have an idea of the character of Shakespeare's Richard III. Referred to as a 'foul lump of deformity', he's a villain through and through.
The Richard you might recall possibly has a pageboy haircut, a sharp nose and chicken legs in black tights, thanks to the impression made by Laurence Olivier on stage and screen. Ian McKellen, Robert Lindsay and Kevin Spacey have also made their mark, but Antony Sher's bravura performance as crookback Dick in 1985 is the one I rate most highly. Sher recorded his preparation for the role in his diary, The Year Of The King, complete with his illustrations of himself as a 'bottled spider'. Armed with two crutches, his hump a gleaming black lump, he scuttled about like a maniacally energetic creature.
If anyone were to upstage the memory of Sher, it would surely be Mark Rylance, who last week returned to Shakespeare's Globe, where he was the founding artistic director between 1995 and 2005, as the powerhungry Duke of Gloucester. Rylance brings a different spirit to the role. He pops unexpectedly through the curtain announcing those famous words: 'Now is the winter of our discontent,' with a guffaw. He's holding a rose that he bestows on a pretty groundling. The hump is barely visible beneath his gorgeous golden doublet on which a wizened hand is pinned like a brooch. Hardly 'foul deformity'.
If this were a disguise adopted in order to get his wicked way, it would be brilliant. But, if it is, it is far too plausible and he never takes us into his confidence. He has the occasional flare-up, but for the most part his stammering speech is so hesitant one fears he may have forgotten his words.
Too much is missing. This is a guy who boasts: 'I am determined to prove the villain?' Yet, where's the charm, the menace, the sex appeal that allows him to seduce a widow over the corpse of the beloved husband he has just murdered? 'Was ever woman in this humour woo'd?' Richard wonders aloud to himself. 'Was ever woman in this humour won?' I don't think so.
Director Tim Carroll's production goes all out for authenticity, so men play the female characters but, though convincingly regal, they have none of the power these queens usually command. Disappointing and underwhelming.
Shakespeare's Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, London SE1: 020-7401 9919, www.shakespearesglobe.com
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