Theatre Review: Richard III @ Apollo Theatre

This summer, Shakespeare’s Globe put on two all-male productions with Mark Rylance at their heart. Yes, Mark Rylance, who swept all before him in Jerusalem, back doing Shakespeare where he (possibly) belongs. Twelfth Night and Richard III (also known as ‘the one without Stephen Fry in it‘) have now transferred to the West End; we popped along to see how it compares to the Globe.

Because, right, the thing about the Globe is that it’s like no other theatre in London. With groundlings standing in the pit, watchers lit as well as the players, it encourages hamming up, nods and winks to the audience, rabble rousing. In short, it is brilliant. The Apollo Theatre production tries to capture some of that immediacy by building Globe-style seating on stage so actors can stare into the expectant eyes of the crowd. But if the Globe ever cried out in support of King Richard, this audience is resolutely mute.

Why would you cheer for Richard, anyway? He’s a murderous villain; though Rylance plays him not as a scheming, blackhearted bastard but almost as a simpleton. A cow-like, bland face and slight lisp couples with a dragged leg and useless, withered arm to make his man a pathetic figure, clinically milking every ounce of comedy to underscore how unthreatening he is, until he erupts with rage and menace all the more frightening for not having been foreshadowed. It’s a fantastically showy performance and yet our eyes kept wandering back to Samuel Barnett’s Queen Elizabeth, Edward IV’s widow and mother to the Princes in the Tower, so you know things will not go well for her. Barnett is stately and heartbreaking, emotion constantly flickering across his face. A masterclass in acting and reacting.

So it’s not quite as much fun as being at the Globe, but it’s also warmer, more comfortable and they sell Häagen-Dazs at the interval. And with performances like these – we’d also like to give honourable mentions to Paul Chahidi as the doomed Hastings and Roger Lloyd Pack’s sly Buckingham – the fun is in the watching, not the taking part.

Richard III runs until 10 February at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. Tickets £25-55, day tickets £10. See the Shakespeare’s Globe website for more details. We saw this production on a press ticket.

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