(This is the third of a four-part look at West End shows that may ultimately move to Broadway.)
If ham can be cured, is it also possible for such an item to be disciplined? There’s evidence to support that case in Tim Carroll’s current production of William Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Globe, with Mark Rylance, one of the great worldwide interpreters of Shakespeare (and all other writers), essaying the nefarious title role. Though it lacks much of the attendant drama associated with the performing one the Bard’s most famous histories, there’s still plenty of meat to gnaw on in this most non-traditional production.
Don’t misunderstand: this is still the story of a ruthlessly ambitious king and how he got there. But whereas most productions – including recent local ones starring Kevin Spacey and Ron Cephas Jones – emphasize his cruel nature, Rylance’s Richard is both doddering and oddly supportive, performing in a grand Elizabethan manner that underscores just why his brother Clarence (Liam Brennan?) might let his guard down and fall victim to fratricide. And the typical hunchback gives way to a deformed arm that also garners sympathy instead of creating a ghoulish distance between character and audience.
And so Rylance, even with more than a soupcon of madcappery, is able to show the subtle seduction enabling Richard III’s monstrosity (which, of course, includes the murder of two young princes), including his wooing of a should-know-better Lady Anne (skillfully played by Johnny Flynn in this all-male production, in one of its more traditional gestures). And for all the violence perpetrated by the man, Rylance’s devilish jocularity also reveals a rarely portrayed element of the man who would be king at all costs. There is a strong undercurrent of self-deprecation and self-loathing to Rylance’s seemingly comic approach. It’s as if to say that if Richard needs to fill a room to the gills and attain all the power in the world just to feel remotely good about himself – and that might be the most tragic element of all to this tale.
Rylance receives considerable support from a strong ensemble of supporting players. In addition to Flynn, Carroll reigns in tight performances from Samuel Barnett as a mercenary Queen Elizabeth, Paul Chahidi, in the dual roles of the Lord of Hastings and Sir James Tyrrell, James Garnon as the Duchess of York, and Roger Lloyd-Pack as the Duke of Buckingham, himself a schemer, in a production that, due to the Globe’s seating and exposure to the elements, is easily distraction-prone.
Eventually, however, Carroll’s conceit runs out of steam as Richard’s journey approaches its unavoidably dramatic climax, and the humor subsides. Suddenly, almost without warning, Richard has become a monster, and even if we never fully understood the tyrant, we’d started to get to like him, leaving the audience unprepared for the heaviness that hits at the end. This segue is a bit too abrupt and leaves no lasting imprint about corruptive power, politics, or self-worth. You might not want to trade your whole kingdom for this horse, but, taken for the ham that it is, it’s still delicious.
The Globe Theatre, London, England. Thru October 13. http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/on-stage/richard-iii-2012
Trackback from your site.