Mark Rylance as Richard III Photo: Simon Annand
Published: 17 January, 2013
by DAN CARRIER
WITHERED arm and gammy leg, hunched over with straggly hair, Mark Rylance’s Richard III stumbles across the stage as he starts off with the famous lines: “Now is the winter of our discontent...”
He seems, on the face of it, a harmless courtier: not a fine physical specimen who could wield a sword in the name of King Edward IV.
Yet beneath the crooked exterior lies such wit, guile and thoroughly evil intentions that he becomes a devil of uncontrollable ambition and power. The Houses of Yorkshire and Lancaster had no answer to his skulduggery.
It seems strange to offer a synopsis to such a well-known play, but briefly: Richard is the scheming Duke who sows discord as he tries to take the throne, killing those in his way and reopening the wounds of the War of the Roses.
It is one of the most approachable and exciting of Shakespeare’s plays, and the memory of seeing Ian McKellen’s film has long been my favourite Shakespearean experience. I now have a new flame – Rylance’s Richard is the most powerful performance you can hope to see on the London stage.
This Richard is at times a bumbling joker who could not possibly pose a threat, ingratiating his way into the hearts and minds of the court by silver-tongued flattery, but this art of persuasion demonstrates his Machiavellian streak. And when he is evil, it is greedily so, epitomised by such small actions as his carnivorous nibbling on the fingers of the females he seduces.
He has brought alive some of the grandest lines Shakespeare wrote, created an interpretation of a man so thoroughly evil, and has captured the sense of how rotten our current crop of public figures are. As he said one thing and does another – his charming of Queen Elizabeth, whose sons he has had butchered, is a fine example – you cannot help but recall the silver-tongued words of today’s politicians.
He is helped by a super cast. Kentish Town-based actor Roger Lloyd Pack appears as his henchman, the Duke of Buckingham, and brings a statesmanlike performance as the sidekick who then turns to the side of the good – and pays dearly for his flip-flop. His speech to the audience, and the Lord Mayor, was captivating.
Richard III contains some the best known lines in the canon. To hear them belted out with such oomph is the perfect theatrical experience.
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