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Richard III at The Globe

I digress from books so soon, I know, but I am still buzzing from seeing Richard III at The Globe on Tuesday.  It was such a fantastic performance.  I feel compelled to urge everyone to get a ticket if they possibly can.

The superb Mark Rylance heads the all-male cast.  He takes the title role and gives his all as the machinating Richard.  As he limped and shambled and stammered onto the stage for the first scene the audience clapped and cheered, expecting great things.  I don’t think we were disappointed.  His Richard was full of malice, knowing asides and warped humour.  We laughed along with him as he made light of killing a king and a prince; giggled as he plotted to do away with his flighty brother Clarence.  I, for one, was complicit with his manoeuvres towards the crown.

The rest of the cast were also splendid, this is not a one-man show.  The men playing the women characters must have been sweltering under their make-up and wigs, but they were excellent.  In fact, so convincing were they that during the interval the woman sitting next to me asked if I thought all the female parts were really being played by men!  The two young boys playing the Princes (of the Tower fame) were delightful, ribbing and digging at their dangerous uncle.

The first scene lays bare Richard’s naked ambition.  With King Edward gravely ill and only two young sons between him and the throne there is work to be done to ensure it is Richard that benefits most from his brother’s death.  He dissembles to his other brother Clarence, all loving fraternal affection until his back is turned.  Richard has a wealth of one-liners, which Rylance makes the most of, but the laughter came to an abrupt stop with the second scene.  There is a complete change of atmosphere as Anne, who Richard will have for his wife, enters in mourning.  Richard attempts to woo her, heedless of the coffin that he helped fill.  The contrast between the two scenes was electric.  I was so looking forward to seeing this production, and from the very beginning it was wonderful.

I ought to confess that I am a bit of a Richard apologist.  In the context of late medieval kingship he was pragmatic and realistic, he was not the accursed hunchback of popular myth.  Much of this myth comes from Thomas More’s history of Richard, and this was a major source for Shakespeare’s play.  Tudor propaganda it most definitely is, bundled up in a highly watchable and entertaining morality play.  But despite Shakespeare’s Richard being a monster I could still see through the cracks.  Rylance gives humanity to the self-serving excuses Richard uses to justify his actions.  Richard is still terrifying when his rage explodes, but also funny and charming.  And, at his end, he is tragic and haunted.  My eyes were full of tears and despite the nearly 30-degree heat I had goosebumps.  I clapped along with the players as they ended with a jaunty dance, which gave me enough time to compose myself ready to shoot up out of my seat once the music stopped.  It was the most heartfelt standing ovation ever; I needed to show how I felt.  I was not alone.  Three curtain calls later, I was still tingling.


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