His years as artistic director here (1995-2005) have given Mark Rylance a keen responsiveness to the preferences and behaviour of Globe audiences. They like to enjoy themselves, even when attending more serious dramas (I have seen Angelo sexually assault Isabella in Measure For Measure to the accompaniment of laughter). So it is that Rylance’s Richard of Gloucester in Tim Carroll’s “original practices” production is a deadpan, grim comedian. Rylance can get a laugh on pretty much any line simply by beginning it with a mock-diffident stammer, and Richard’s relationship with the audience is one not just of complicity but playfulness.
This can misfire. The Globe crowd, always keen to join in given a particle of opportunity, roar their approval of Richard’s stage-managed bid for the crown in Act 3, making a nonsense of Shakespeare’s account that it has scant popular support. In the final phase, when the now enthroned Richard seems to run out of jokes, the audience is not prepared to accept and match the growing earnestness onstage.
Other dubious notes occur elsewhere in the cast. With young men playing the female roles, Samuel Barnett and Johnny Flynn succeed as white-leaded queens, Flynn’s Lady Anne paralysed in despair at Richard’s coronation even as he plans her murder; but James Garnon’s Duchess of York is a gurning battleaxe (albeit a remarkably contrasting doubling of roles, as Garnon also plays the noble, humble Richmond). Surprisingly, Roger Lloyd Pack’s poker face only pays off in the role of Buckingham when he and Richard discuss the aforementioned public claim for the crown; the rest of the time he shows uncharacteristically little individuality.
For the most part, though, Carroll’s staging works well on its own terms. Also prominent in the cast is Paul Chahidi, doubling as the too-trusting Lord Hastings and the later-acts henchman Sir William Tyrrell. Doubling is the order of the day: a cast of 15 may seem numerically large by modern standards, but in a Shakespearean history it allows for little fleshing out of court scenes, never mind armies or civilian crowds; once again, the audience is pressed into willing service.
As the principal box-office draw, Rylance supplies a lesser but palpable reprise of the maverick charisma that made him an international star in Jerusalem. If the production concentrates more on momentary effect than on long-term subtleties, that is to some extent the nature of performance in the Globe environment.