Globe Theatre Production
Apollo Theatre, London
Saturday 10th November 2012, 2 pm
Directed by Tim Carroll
If you’ve been to any recent production of Richard III, or seen the Ian McKellan film, you’ll assume that the playscript reads:
Setting: A state in Europe dissolving into Fascism, circa 1930
You’ll also be waiting for the thespians to don balaclavas (to conceal doubling up of parts) and army combat fatigues (one size fits all) and run around the set waving guns in an effete manner as in any recent Shakespearean production with a bit of battle in it. Richard III, with so many of the cast bumped off along the way, then a big battle scene at the end is the classic doubling-up play.
So to an authentic Elizabethan production (see comments in the Twelfth Night review, with which this is in repertory). I was interested to see what costume ’authentic practices’ would inspire. The Elizabethans, unlike people a century earlier, knew that costume had changed and that Romans wore togas. They also knew that The Battle of Bosworth in 1485 was the full knights and armour clashing and clanking stuff. The armouries of 1594 still oiled the suits of armour they stored (too early to scrap them and Oxfam was centuries away), and even Henry VIII had had elaborate full armour for tournaments. The “classic” knight in full armour gear post-dates most of the actual medieval battles and was made in mid-16th century Europe, which is why it’s survived undented. The 109 years since Bosworth had seen firearms move from a novelty on the periphery of battles to centre stage. The Elizabethans of 1594 knew that people in 1485 had dressed differently both domestically and for warfare. We assume, as the Globe does, that Elizabethan theatre was rich in costume, light on props and set. It’s believed that some of the elaborate stage costumes were aristocratic patron hand-me-downs, so would be used in multiple productions. A bit like the balaclavas in 2012, but better-looking. That long aside brings us to the production view here that Richard III should be played in the clothes of 1594 rather than 1485. I’m sure they know their authentic practices.
Mark Rylance as Richard III
In previous Richard III reviews here (Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic in 2011, and Jonjo O’Neill the RSC earlier in 2012) I’ve noted the fact that the play is called Richard III, and is about Richard III so don’t complain that the actor playing Richard III hogs the limelight. I wouldn’t think Mark Rylance would be daunted by anyone’s recent performance in choosing roles, but Spacey was SO good. And Jonjo O’Neill had extracted a lot of humour from the part. So here we are at the third major UK production in 18 months, and its USP (unique sales pitch) is that it has no USP. Or rather the lack of a parallel concept is the USP. This production coincides with the apparent finding of the real Richard III’s body under a Leicester supermarket car park, which has had great publicity. And the skeleton had spinal curvature, so one up for Shakespeare and one down for the Richard III society who say Shakespeare invented most of the deformities.
Mark Rylance draws every last possible drop of humour from the role, and also his Richard is indeed a foul toad if ever there was one. One review said he was the runt of the Plantagenet litter, but it’s the clever runt at that. The events of the play cover several years, and he changes gradually but inexorably from the Gloucester who can totally hoodwink his brother, the Duke of Clarence, and Lady Anne, to someone who is ceasing to fool anyone, to the tyrant who can expose his rage and inner ferocity full force.
The production has a great deal to commend it. Richard’s scene with George, Duke of Clarence at the beginning of the play, as Clarence is escorted to the tower cannot be bettered. Similarly, the late scene where Richard tries to persuade his sister-in-law to betroth him to her daughter is so good that Elizabeth (played by Samuel Barnett) got the only mid-scene loud applause of the whole play as he exited.
Johnny Flynn as Anne, Mark Rylance as Richard
Another masterly piece of acting and direction is the scene where Richard says that his Queen, Lady Anne, is sick and like to die and she is standing next to him, as white as a sheet, motionless. This is where Richard began experimentally tasting people’s sweat and tears, which was really creepy.
The doubling is necessary with a much smaller cast than the RSC / Old Vic, and actually the all-male production allows unrecognisable doubling. I thought the aged Duchess of York and the strapping heroic Richmond being played by the same actor (James Garnon) was a major achievement. You’d only know by reading the programme.
I liked having the full ghost line-up at the end. Also this stripped down cast means a stripped down battle (well, a duel) and it’s all the better for it. Either you chuck twenty people on stage, or you do it as a symbol of the battle. The battle scene worked.
As with Twelfth Night, the ensemble dancing at the end (to the authentic instruments band) was superb. Unlike Twelfth Night, I thought the house lights went down a bit when the play was in progress, though not “off”.
There are touches to criticise. They have two sets of kids playing the princes in the tower. On this show, Edward (Edward V) was strikingly good, and Afro-Caribbean. I’m absolutely for colour blindness in Shakespeare, but there cannot be a worse example. Young Edward has his paternity questioned in Richard’s thrust for kingship. He is called a bastard. Now as Edward IV and his wife Queen Elizabeth are manifestly white, this is really dumb. We all recognize family features in kids, and if young Edward is ethnically different to Mum and Dad, Richard’s accusations work. You can’t do it with this particular role. I also began to think Rylance is stretching the trademark stutter a tad.
Also, the first half lacks energy and pace compared to the RSC and Old Vic high concept modern age versions. In Twelfth Night, this company proved the worth of the straight authentic practices route. In this one though, the sheer steamroller power of the Old Vic (five star for me) and the RSC (four star) is missed. The concept of modernising really works on Richard III (and also on Macbeth).
Mark Rylance is the star, no Richard has dissembled more, nor had such a tiny withered hand, nor such a limp. He brings much light to old lines. When he is crowned, the long gold and ermine cloak and train and costume are uncomfortably reminiscent of the tiny usurper in the Shrek movies, but it also plays up the small, withered man controlling huge power.
Mark Rylance as Richard III, Johnny Flynn as Lady Anne
The early scene with Lady Anne reveals much, but however well it’s played (and it is) the necessary sexual tension goes out of the window with an all-male cast. It doesn’t matter with Queen Elizabeth, nor the Duchess of York, neither of whom are “sexual” figures, but it’s something you miss with Lady Anne.
If you had a guest who had never seen Shakespeare live, then if you wanted to time-travel and demonstrate the sheer power of Richard III on stage, you’d go for Kevin Spacey every time. I’m a fine judge of audience appreciation … the clapometer … and this was deserved ecstatic standing ovation applause for a couple or three minutes, but Twelfth Night got more, and everyone standing rather than half. I was standing.
I had harsh words about the Apollo in the Jerusalem review, where we were in the stalls in row R. That row may be a one off, as much more cramped than the others, but they really should reduce prices for that row. The dress circle was fine, comfortable for an old theatre even. And this time all the loos were working.
SEE OTHER RICHARD III REVIEWS:
- Richard III – Spacey, 2011 Old Vic Kevin Spacey as Richard III
- Richard III – RSC 2012 Jonjo O’Neill as Richard III
- Richard III – Freeman, Trafalgar Studio Martin Freeman as Richard III
- Richard III – Almeida, Ralph Fiennes as Richard III
MARK RYLANCE ON THIS BLOG:
Nice Fish by Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins
Farinelli & The King, by Claire Van Kampen, Wanamaker Playhouse, 2015
Richard III – Apollo 2012 Mark Rylance as Richard III
Twelfth Night – Apollo 2012 Mark Rylance as Olivia
Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, West End
La Bête by David Hirson, West End, 2010