Richard III and Twelfth Night may not be natural bedfellows, but Tim Carroll’s joyous productions link the two, finding a common thread of disguise and playacting. Seen at Shakespeare’s Globe this summer, the two stagings come indoors for the winter and bring the Globe’s panache and flirtatious relationship with the audience into a more intimate setting. Jenny Tiramani’s candle-lit, honey-coloured set, with some spectators housed in wooden galleries on stage, creates a festive mood. And led by Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry, the all-male ensemble brings a relish to the story-telling, frequently getting the audience in on the act.
The more challenging task lies in delivering Richard III in this vein. We know the play as a tragedy, but it is staged here almost as a macabre comedy, with Rylance’s extraordinarily original, grinning goblin of a Richard bustling round the stage. Richard is always an actor, but here he is a comedian, eliciting laughs where they have rarely been found before. It’s daring, disarming and astutely makes the audience complicit. Rylance reminds us that evil often presents with a smiling face, and his Richard gradually emerges as a ruthless psychopath: proclaiming his queen’s imminent death as she stands (Johnny Flynn, catatonic with despair) beside him, he dips his finger in her tears and smears them down his own face to enhance his image. This is a damaged, damaging Richard, a kind of warped Lord of Misrule who casually disposes of people.
There is an excellent Queen Elizabeth too from Samuel Barnett. This reading has drawbacks though – the relationship between Richard and Buckingham (a rather underwhelming Roger Lloyd Pack) lacks weight and the historical context, significant to the plot, is underplayed. But it is a fresh, chilling and enthralling interpretation.
In Twelfth Night, camouflage leads to comic sexual confusion, rather than a pile of bodies. Again, Carroll’s affectionate production emphasises the playacting: the actors dress onstage as the audience take their seats. The all-male cast lends a further layer to the erotic muddle in the play and the emphasis on performance sharpens the sense that both the lovesick Orsino and the grieving Olivia are playing roles that crumble once they both fall for Cesario.
Rylance is superb, his sedate Olivia glides around demurely, only to lose composure at the arrival of the young man: Rylance makes her battle between controlled modesty and flustered infatuation very funny. Meanwhile Liam Brennan, as Orsino, suffers his own confusion as his eye wanders idly down his young servant’s form.
Fry’s Malvolio is not the funniest you will see, but the more touching for that: this is a pedantic man whose pomposity isn’t enough to earn him the cruel treatment of those who trick him. Among those conspirators, it is Paul Chahidi’s Maria who stands out, a wonderful, roguish, matronly figure, whose reeling in of Sir Toby makes a nice counterpoint to her mistress’s travails in love. Enhanced throughout with period music, this is a warm, mellow staging of Shakespeare’s mysterious comedy.