With still-fresh memories of Kevin Spacey’s amalgamation of Keyser Soze and Simon Cowell to give us a slick, sharp-suited Richard III, we trudged through the snow (well a bit of slush) eager to discover what Olivier, Tony, Bafta and Freda winning Mark Rylance would make of Shakespeare’s vengeful king. But first the bar. One of the glories of a middle aged theatre habit is that weekend matinees offer the ideal opportunity to start drinking at lunchtime without the slightest hint of a reproachful glance. In fact, the theatre was so packed with silver tipplers that I’m amazed there wasn’t a conga line during the interval, but I digress.
Mark Rylance makes his stamp before he utters a single line. A huge grin on his face, bellowing manic laughter, he immediately breaks the fourth wall and wrongfoots us. This Richard is an altogether different beast, strangely warm and conspiratorial, more Billy Dainty than JR Ewing, his limp and withered arm engendering pity not revulsion. It soon becomes clear that Rylance’s Richard is slowly descending into madness. His friendly demeanour gradually gives way to a bitter single minded pursuit of the crown. His moral compass is impaired to such an extent that he will let no-one block his sinister path to glory. Friends and family, women and children, are all summarily dispatched at the tiniest perception of threat. When he punches his elderly mother in the stomach and spits at her, we know he is lost. Haunted by the ghosts of those he has murdered, during the final battle scene we finally get a sense of remorse as Richard falls.
Mark Rylance transcends any superlative, holding us rapt for three hours, he truly is a wonder of the modern world. You never once notice he is acting, the words roll off his tongue and it sounds and feels the most natural thing in the world. His presence in a company patently encourages the remainder of the cast to up their game, so there are any number of wonderful performances, not least from Paul Chahidi, who was in danger of stealing Twelfth Night as Maria. Here in dual roles as the doomed haughty Hastings and the mercenary Tyrrell, he is captivating. The three female roles, taken by men, are equally noteworthy. Johnny Flynn, another Freda winner, as Lady Anne, forced to marry Richard before he has her beheaded, is helplessly courted and eventually catatonic. Samuel Barnett’s Elizabeth is an altogether feistier creation, incredulous, as are we, at Richard’s demands and behaviour. Finally, in a small but pivotal role, James Garnon as Richard’s mother looks on in despair and disgust at the fruit of her loins, a mother’s love slowly evaporating.
I could go on, but I won’t. Just don’t miss any play that Rylance decides to be part of. One final thought though, how come Bradley Wiggins gets knighted for riding a bike, yet I see no letters after Rylance’s name? Come on Dave, do something about it.
Right that’s us off to the Menier Chocolate Factory for a matinee of Merrily We Roll Along, which will make it four 5 star prodctions in eight days for us and, crucially, the chance of a couple of guilt-free early doors vodka and tonics.
Booking until 10 February 2013, roll up, roll up to see a wonder of the modern world - Richard III