I’m Back! Since the completion of my quest I’ve been very busy with regards to Shakespeare. I’ve seen many more productions and interpretations of his timeless characters. I have not, however, been reviewing them as I had been. I recently saw two new performances (both by the same cast) of Richard III and Twelfth Night. Ruminating and discussing them afterwards lead me to feel the urge to once again document my opinions of the performances, so I decided to start up the blog again and continue to just review plays that I happen to see. So, Enjoy!
These two productions, both starring Mark Rylance and taking place on stage at New York City’s Belasco Theater, were about as opposite as two performances by the same cast can be. I will start by discussing Twelfth Night.
Rylance as Olivia in Twelfth Night
If you’re a parent, looking to take your kids out for a nice introductory night into the world of Shakespeare, this is the play for you. The performance is riddled with slapstick humor, silly costumes and outrageous displays. Performed by an all male cast, and staring Rylance as the female lead, Olivia, there is certainly enough awkward innuendo to keep the night interesting. If you are, however, a Shakespeare aficionado hoping to spend the night being lulled in to the ornate, fantastical world of love and faint melancholy of Shakespeare’s mystical masterpiece, you will be disappointed. This magic, which sets Twelfth Night apart from many of the bard’s comedies, is lost entirely in this SNL style portrayal. Rylance and co. seem more focused on seeming ridiculous than holding any shred of humanity. Key elements of the play are therefore lost all together. Malvolio’s (Stephen Fry) indignant declaration of contempt at the conclusion of the play seemed out of place and therefore in sharp contrast with the rest of the play. The tender reunion of the twins seemed utterly forced and one-dimensional, as there was no context for, what should have been, sentimental joy.
This leads me to a simple conclusion; they picked the wrong play. They simply picked the wrong play. Shakespeare’s varied comedies span multiple genres, and he wrote a number plays that are ideal for this sort of performance. For example, The Merry Wives Of Windsor would have been ideal for such a portrayal. Arguably his most slapstick play, Comedy of Errors, may have also been a fit for this cast, especially since it also has twins who are essential to the plot. But certain comedies, As You Like It being another example, are only classified with those above because they too have a happy ending. They are, however, written with a wider range of emotions and are designed to evoke a far more intellectual response from the audience members. If they are not treated as such, they lose what makes them masterpieces, and are reduced to dull comedy like the others in their category (and not particularly strong comedy at that). Shakespeare fanatics beware!
Rylance with Fry
Now on to the other hand, Richard III, with Mark Rylance as the title character, is not a play you want to bring the kids to. The play in itself is very difficult to follow without prior knowledge of the plot and language. Rylance offers an interesting incarnation of the infamous hunchback. Straying from the usual dark nature of the king, he marks with role with a memorable forced laugh. He repeats this laugh throughout the performance, often when speaking directly to the audience. Though his mouth laughs, his eyes show now mirth, inspiring an eerie effect. This sets up his take on the character as a whole, as he acts as though he is constantly forcing himself to fit into the society around him. He often changes his tone, playing up the fakeness of the character by accentuating the constant conforming to those in the court to gain their trust. While this in itself is a very effective quality, he loses much of the bloodlust and fiendish nature that is so often (and rightly so) associated with the character. Though it is not all there is to him, Richard is, at least partly, a monster. He loves to witness the destruction of those around him, feeding off strife. Rylance perfectly captures the wistfulness and deep-seated desire for normality, but fails to be convincing in his murderous ways. Yet it is certainly worth seeing for Shakespeare fans, as such an iconic character can never have too many interpretations and each one illuminates a slightly different aspect of the role, perhaps one you had not previously perceived.
Rylance as the hunchback
I must also add that both these shows run in the same time frame, sometimes even on the same day. The cast displays incredible diversity in their ability to switch roles. Finding such versatile actors as can play an innocent lady one night and a warrior the next is not an easy task. While I was not blown away by either, I maintain that Richard III is certainly worth the price of the ticket, and Twelfth Night is the perfect way to introduce the kids to Shakespeare.
Readers, I’m glad to be back, and I plan on keeping this blog up and running for many months to come!