Mark Rylance seems determined to make the Apollo "his" theatre in much
the same way as John Gielgud once colonised the Haymarket, or Robert
Morley the Savoy. He returns to the scene of his triumph as Johnny
“Rooster” Byron in Jerusalem at the head of a tremendous pairing of plays, with all-male casts, from Shakespeare’s Globe this summer.
Your Shakespeare in London for Christmas problem is solved at a stroke -
courtesy of producer Sonia Friedman; thanks for nothing, RSC - with
the greatest cartoon chronicle history play in the language, and the
never-failing (except in the recent Peter Hall NT revival), mature
comedy of gender-bending romance and thwarted puritanism.
For it’s a paradoxical feature of both Mark Rylance performances and
Tim Carroll’s “original practices” productions that absolute modernity
is the keynote. There’s nothing stale or historically arch at the
Apollo, despite the panelled hall and minstrels’ gallery of Jenny
Tiramani’s design, with about eighty onstage customers seated in a
mini-Globe-like onstage boxes.
This is an indoor Globe, with constant light and four descendent
chandeliers, with the freshness of the outdoor acting, actors coming
through the stalls, and Rylance playing the audience like a music hall
comedian. The music is marvellous and you can look forward to a
Globe-style company jig to send you home happy.
Rylance’s Richard is the most original I’ve ever seen, the very opposite
of Kevin Spacey’s satanic leather-and-buckles job, a psychotic booby
with a calm façade, minimal disability (a withered left hand worn like a
brooch, a slightly splayed right leg) and a vile and childish
playfulness that is brilliant for the wooing of Lady Anne, or the
circuitous acceptance of the crown, or the suggestion that he’ll bury
the sons of the Queen in her daughter’s womb, a funereal defilement.
Similarly, Rylance’s Olivia in Twelfth Night
– a performance resurrected from his days in charge at the Globe –
glides, as if on castors, through the play in total command, a
white-faced beauty in a tiny coronet whose flirtatious cheek, this time,
has a more carnal intention, the pivot of the action, “the observ’d of
And Stephen Fry as Malvolio? He’s fine, without being great, or even
stepping out of his comfort zone. No sign of mania, or even hysteria,
not much of a rictus when he “smiles” or absurdity in his yellow
stockings. He’s funny, alright, but in a totally Stephen Fry sort of
way. The scene-stealing, detailed acting performance here is that of
Paul Chahidi as a wonderful Maria, a sort of trussed up Patricia
Routledge with a sniff of a party spirit and a chance with Sir Toby.
Chahidi plays a great double in Richard III, too, as Hastings and
Tyrell. Other notable doubles across the plays are those of Peter
Hamilton Dyer as the ever present Catesby and a well-voiced,
dry-as-dust Feste, and Roger Lloyd Pack as a slavish Buckingham and a
languorously debauched Aguecheek in ill-fitting hose and a feather on
his cap that looks as though it grew out of his beard.
Still missing from Richard III is Queen Margaret, whose absence
unhinges the play from the history cycle, so fair enough; until, that
is, Richmond (James Garnon) plonks us right in it at the end.
And although Johnny Flynn is a perfectly acceptable, likeable Viola,
he misses the inner rush and turmoil by a mile; no Dorothy Tutin or Judi
Dench, he. In the context of an all-male version, he’s not especially
androgynous, either, so that the Sebastian of Samuel Barnett (a
superbly ferocious Queen Elizabeth in Richard) is consequently less effective.