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Richard II

The gentleness that is a particularly appealing element of Mark Rylance's stage persona is put to fine use in the actor's performance as Shakespeare's diffident Richard II at Shakespeare's Globe. Rylance's Richard is the affecting center of this all-male staging by Tim Carroll that clearly presents the king's failings as a ruler and diplomat -- and human being -- but also clarifies the ennobling effects of his downfall.

A Shakespeare’s Globe Theater presentation of the play by William Shakespeare in two acts. Directed by Tim Carroll. Costumes, Luca Costigliolo, Jenny Tiramani; music, William Lyons, Claire Van Kampen; choreography, Sian Williams; fight directors, John Waller, Jonathan Waller. Opened May 8, 2003.

The gentleness that is a particularly appealing element of Mark Rylance’s stage persona is put to fine use in the actor’s performance as Shakespeare’s diffident Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe. Rylance’s Richard is the affecting center of this all-male staging by Tim Carroll that clearly presents the king’s failings as a ruler and diplomat — and human being — but also clarifies the ennobling effects of his downfall.

Rylance’s Richard has the manner of a bored child in the play’s early scenes, when he presides somewhat peevishly over the dispute between Bolingbroke (Liam Brennan) and Mowbray (Terry McGinity). He’s a monarch who has never learned the proper manners of a ruler. While his subjects present their grievances, a distracted Richard bends to tenderly stroke the hide of a freshly killed deer. He gingerly holds a handkerchief in front of his nose in disgust when calling on the dying Gaunt (played with intelligent gravity by John McEnery), and later flies into a petulant rage when stung by his criticism.

Rylance’s Richard is charming and sincere when he is appealing to the audience directly, giving public speeches, but this Richard foolishly thinks it is enough to play the decorous ruler in public, while indulging his personal whims and playing favorites in private. He fails to see that the courtiers he abuses are the real conduit between a ruler and his people; it is only they who are in contact with the people and can steer their loyalties. The king, far above, can but look on helplessly as his subjects revolt.

When the tide turns against him, Richard is puzzled and chastened into gentleness. Appealingly, Rylance’s Richard crucially retains his humor in his humiliation; he practically plays the court jester at times, making his points about the divine right of kings with a wit that commands attention now that he can no longer command respect. By the time the king’s fate is sealed, his grace and sensitivity have moved us to aching sympathy.

Since “Richard II” is notable for the relative brevity — and paucity — of its female roles, the casting of men in them here brings neither embarrassments nor revelations. In any event the supporting cast, playing either gender, is strong. Carroll’s acclaimed all-male “Twelfth Night,” starring Rylance as Olivia, tours the U.S. this fall, but has not skedded a New York berth. On the evidence of this assured and affecting production, that’s a real pity.

Richard II

Shakespeare's Globe; 1,481 Seats; £29 ($47)

  • Production: A Shakespeare's Globe Theater presentation of the play by William Shakespeare in two acts. Directed by Tim Carroll.
  • Crew: Costumes, Luca Costigliolo, Jenny Tiramani; music, William Lyons, Claire Van Kampen; choreography, Sian Williams; fight directors, John Waller, Jonathan Waller. Opened May 8, 2003. Reviewed June 26. Running time: <B>2 HOURS, 45 MIN.</B>
  • Cast: King Richard II - Mark Rylance John of Gaunt - John McEnery Henry Bolingbroke - Liam Brennan Thomas Mowbray - Terry McGinity Duchess of Gloucester/ Willoughby - William Osborne Earl of Northumberland - Albie Woodington Duke of Aumerle - Chu Omambala Henry Green - Richard Glaves Bushy - Justin Shevlin Bagot - Patrick Brennan Duke of York - Bill Stewart Queen Isabel - Michael Brown Ross - Peter Shorey Servingman/Salisbury - Patrick Toomey Harry Percy - Gerald Kyd