By: Lauren Yarger
The Globe is presenting Richard III and Twelfth Night in repertory at the Belasco Theatre in what is becoming one of the most Shakespeare-filled seasons on Broadway in recent history (Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth are on the Great White Way at the moment too). Mark Rylance stars in both as Richard and as Olivia. Here are thoughts on the presentations, which are presented with all-male casts as they were in Shakespeare’s time (in fact, I wasn’t even able to detect any microphones in use).
The audience is invited to come about 30 minutes prior to curtain to witness the ritual of the actors getting into costume and to see the lighting of the chandeliers using 100 beeswax candles. Some audience members are seated on stage in two levels of box seats and occasionally the actors interact with them.
Both productions feature period-instrument-playing musicians on stage (they are up on top of the oak-paneled backdrop wall) with music by Claire van Kampen. And as is the Globe’s tradition, each performance ends with a delightful Elizabethan dance curtain call.
Any time you can see Rylance on stage, go. He’s brilliant. I took very few notes duringRichard III, partly because I know the story and partly because Rylance was so fascinating, I just sat back and watched. His take on Richard is different (not really surprised). This king seems half inebriated and half mad with the thought of power and securing England’s throne for himself regardless of whom he might have to kill to do it. His bursts of joyful laughs are at once humorous and frightening.
Standing out is Richard is Joseph Timms as Lady Anne, whom Richards woos despite the fact that he has killed her husband and her father-in-law and in spite of his physical deformities, depicted here as a limp and a malformed left hand. Also riveting is Samuel Barnett as Queen Elizabeth, whose ill-fated sons are the boys in the tower.
In Twelfth Night, Rylance plays Olivia, the unrequited love interest of Count Orsino (Liam Brennan). She falls in love with Viola (Barnett), who, washed up on shore after a shipwreck, assumes the disguise of a man in Orsino’s service. Rylance’s Olivia is very frail and frazzled. Her quick little steps under the voluminous Elizabethan gown brings guffaws. (The costumes, meticulously researched and created by Jenny Tirimani, are engrossing to observe themselves).
This Twelfth Night, my personal favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, is really very funny. Lots of laughs throughout and one of the best jobs of making Viola and her twin brother, Sebastian (Timms), look alike in any production that I have seen. Stephen Fry plays a satisfying Malvolio, Colin Hurley is notable as a humorous Sir Toby Belch and Paul Chahidi is a surprisingly nasty Maria.
While I recommend seeing both productions just for the opportunity to see Rylance and to experience Shakespeare in its original form, neither production is my favorite for these particular works. Directed by Tim Carroll, the pace of Twelfth Night is too slow (a number of nearby audience members nodded off and one was snoring rather loudly). If you aren’t already familiar with the plot, you will have trouble following it. Because the action takes place against the stationary backdrop setting, it is not clear at all that Viola has washed up on shore following a shipwreck — or that Sebastian is her twin brother. The whole man-playing-a-woman-playing-a-man thing was confusing for many.
Richard III plays more effectively against the interior set — until the battle scene. Carroll has Richard being visited by some ghosts that look like kids trick-or-treating with sheets over their heads, then seemingly attacked in his castle, where he appears to be running through arched doorways pledging his kingdom for a horse…. It just doesn’t work. In addition, sounds from outside the theater, like groups of people laughing or talking and police and fire sirens, can be heard in the house and too often remind us that we are not really in 16th-century England.
Richard III and Twelfth Night play in rep at the Belasco, 111 West 44th St., NYC through Feb. 1. http://www.shakespearebroadway.com/.
Photo: Joan Marcus