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A CurtainUp Review
The Globe Season - Richard II

O that I were as great
As is my grief, or lesser than my name!
Or that I could forget what I have been,
Or not remember what I must be now!

-- Richard II
The Globe Season - Richard II
Mark Rylance as Richard II
(Photo: John Tramper)
This season's theme at the Globe Theatre, their seventh on the South Bank is regime change. The all male Men's Company perform Richard II while the newly formed Women's Company tackle Richard III. These plays are either end of Shakespeare's main history cycle following the transition from Plantagenet to Tudor monarchs. Later in the season are two rare plays by Christopher Marlowe, Dido Queen of Carthage and an all-male Edward II, with Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew played by the all-female company.

Mark Rylance, whose regime has been in place since the Globe's inception, takes the part of Richard II, a perfect role for his sensitive and delicate interpretative skills. It has taken a little while but just as last season's offerings at the Globe seem to have improved the use of this difficult seventeenth century space, this production of Richard II establishes Rylance's Globe's reliability. The productions are not gimmicky but straightforward delivery of Shakespeare's verse, exquisitely dressed and performed by actors who have mastered the art of being heard in the open air without declaiming their lines. Rylance is of course a true star and tends to dwarf those around him. Somehow he can talk softly and be heard everywhere.

There are still a few problems, not from the company, but from the groundlings, those who choose to stand for £5 in the theatre's "pit". My complaint is their tendency to laugh at moments of great poignancy. As Richard asks for "a little, little grave", showing how reduced is this royal prince, they giggle. Does Rylance know that his pleading will have this effect on the crowd? Does he perhaps milk it? However to watch the wonderment on the faces of those late comers who stumble upon a live performance at the Globe and can join it for £5, is sheer pleasure. The downside of this participatory crowd is their expectation of comedy.

I cannot praise the original sumptuous costumes too highly. Every thing visual about the production is authentic spectacle, living museum. Jenny Tiramani was awarded an Olivier award for her costume design in 2002. I have watched the costumes develop from the first season jerkins in period with twentieth century trousers, to those state of the art confections we see today supported by authentic looking armour and weaponry.

Rylance's Richard, the shallow courtier, visits his dying uncle Gaunt (John McEnery) but stands a way off, holding a handkerchief to his face, self interest registering higher than his concern for his dying relative. The interesting thing about Richard is that despite his many faults and weaknesses, he is the anointed king. As Richard's power base crumbles, his stocking rolls down and he learns humanity. It is only when he is deposed that he wins our sympathy, only then valuing what he has lost. The all male production is less significant as there are so few female roles in Richard II and even Queen Isabel (Michael Brown) tall in his red Farthingale is marginalised as a significant player.

The production finishes on a celebratory Jacobean clap dance, executed with great style and aplomb and bringing a carnival feeling to the end of the evening.

The Globe Season - Richard II
Written by William Shakespeare
Master of Play: Tim Carroll

Starring: Mark Rylance
With: John McEnery, Lim Brennan, Terry McGinity, William Osbourne, Albie Woodington, Chu Omambala, Richard Glaves, Justin Shelvin, Patrick Brennan, Bill Stewart, Michael Brown, Peter Shorey, Patrick Toomey, Gerald Kyd
Master of Clothing: Luca Constiglioli, Jenny Tiramani
Master of Properties and Hangings: Jenny Tiramani
Master of Historical Music: William Lyons
Master of Theatre Music: Claire van Kampen
Master of Dance: Sian Williams
Master of Fights: John Waller, Johnathan Waller
Master of the Words: Giles Block
Master of Movement: Glynn MacDonald
Master of Voice: Stewart Pearce
Running time: Three hours with one interval .
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Booking to 27th September 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th May 2003 performance at the Globe, New Globe Walk London SE1 (Tube Station: London Bridge/Mansion House via Millennium Bridge)

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