After ruling as the Rooster in Jerusalem, Mark Rylance returns to scenes of earlier triumphs as a comical Crookback, a childish villain of Gloucester who cloaks his subtle treachery in a soft smile “to entertain these fair well-spoken days”.
Johnny Flynn (Lady Anne) and Mark Rylance (Richard III) in Richard III at Shakespeare's Globe, London Photo: Simon Annand
Well, what did we expect? No Richard in living memory has been less satanic than Rylance, none so buffoonish or lightly disabled, though the pain of physical discomfiture shows through eventually, as the mask of affability disintegrates.
And, boy, those tantrums - only three or four, but the little prince in pink satin who touches his shoulder, and Roger Lloyd Pack’s grouchy old Buckingham, feel the full force of that sudden fury.
Rylance returns to the Globe with his “original practices” team of director Tim Carroll, designer Jenny Tiramani (her gorgeous Elizabethan costumes marred only by the appearance of the ghosts at Bosworth as white-clad dolls with muslin top-knots) and composer Claire van Kampen.
An all-male cast includes a striking Lady Anne from Johnny Flynn, Samuel Barnett’s ferociously unyielding Elizabeth and James Garnon’s bullfrog Duchess of York, deprived of much cursing and moving around like a stately galleon on castors under her dress.
Rylance resembles a comically distorted version of Nicholas Hilliard’s “Young Man Among Roses”, right leg slightly splayed, withered left arm bundled in a puffy sleeve and covered casually in a cape, head on a quizzical tilt. Only the trace of a speech impediment suggests the broiling incapacities within.
Apart from its vocal mastery, this is an impeccable physical performance at the opposite end of the Rylance/Rooster spectrum - delicate, nervy, throbbing with false modesty (“I am not made of stone,” he whimpers), dreaming nightmares on the eve of battle. But when desperate, he’s lethal, his bartering cry of kingdom for a horse unleashed from the depths of stomach and stage alike.