Ever since Olivier's film version of Richard III, we've become used to the idea of Richard as a rather camp actor as much as he's a villain. His comic asides set the tone for future depictions.
It's doubtful however, whether there's ever been a portrayal quite like Mark Rylance's. He takes the comic elements of the role and multiplies them a hundred-fold. Appearing with hairstyle of a Max Wall and the exaggerated asides of Frankie Howerd, he looks more ready for the second house at the Liverpool Empire rather than to seize the throne of England.
There are occasions where this works very well: his exaggerated pause on the line "the lascivious pleasing of a lute" draws the first laugh of the evening and his constant mugging gathers plenty of audience approval. There's even an element of pantomime as Buckingham exhorts the Globe audience to shout its own support for Richard's kingly ambitions.
But what's missing is the cold-hearted villainy that causes his own mother to curse him. There's no sense that this play-acting buffoon is the monster who strikes fear into the aristocracy. The scene with the young princes should be replete with hidden menace but, some brief business with a dagger aside, it looks more like a cuddly family get-together.
Roger Lloyd Pack's ambitious Buckingham is a willing partner in crime and Paul Chahidi's plump and self-satisfied Hastings provides solid support. James Garnon provides us with a mordantly bitter Duchess, cursing the loss of her family and her part in bringing Richard into the world.
Tim Carroll makes the action fly by; helped by some judicious cuts (Queen Margaret is removed altogether) but the end result is rather unsatisfying.
After Rylance's recent tragedy, it must have taken a great effort to continue with this production, perhaps the most keenly awaited Shakespeare since David Tennant's Hamlet. It's a shame that Rylance's mastery of the comedy can't distract from a production devoid of the bloodthirsty strivings of the historical character and, while it's a crowd-pleaser, the darkness at the heart of the play is missing.
(Photo: Simon Annand)
- By Maxwell Cooter