What a simple, complicated and exquisite duet is the production of these two plays in rep. Richard III and Twelfe Night (As it is spelled in the program and on the marquee) have been bound together in a feast for everyone with the fortune to be in attendance.
The simplicity begins with the set and lights (production design by Jenny Tiramani) that has no moving parts (gads!), no video projections (what???) and no fancy anything with the exception of the upstage doors that open as they would for the Queen – intuitively.
For lighting I counted 42 instruments – a paltry sum indeed for a Broadway show. And the night I was in attendance there was a rumor that the light board was not functioning properly. Not to worry. For one thing there are six hanging candelabras, whose melting candies surrender to gravity more than once during the evening. In addition the stunning house lights, shaded in Tiffany glass, never fully dim. We can see the actors and musicians just fine. And they can see us as well.
Complicated would be the costumes that each of this all male cast wears. As a bonus – all you need to do is show up 30 minutes before curtain and watch them being dressed. The simpler men’s outfits are Renaissance onesies. For the more complicated: men being trussed into women’s garb with only lacings. Not a zipper in site. Watching Mark Rylance being folded into the costume for Richard III is a master class all on its own.
For exquisite there is Shakespeare’s text, handled by folks who know what they are about. The leader of the pack is, of course, Mark Rylance who turns in two performances (Richard III and Olivia in Twelfth Night) that are transporting. He is supported by a more than able cast. Samuel Barnett (Viola/Queen Elizabeth) is a standout in both productions. Paul Chahidi positively glows as the servant Maria in Twelfth Night as does Angus Wright as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. John Paul Connolly and Jethro Skinner (1st and 2nd Murderers in Richard III) are s purely perfect match. Peter Hamilton Dyer handles his roles as courtier and fool with equal grace. Stephen Fry (Malvolio) wears his arrogance and injury with equal weight and elegance
Over all the actors seem to fare better in Twelfth Night as they release themselves into the comedy and are not bound by the confines of the iambic pentameter. The only one who is not bound by same is Rylance. For him, the meter seems to be more of a suggestion than a rule to which me must bid allegiance. In Twelfth Night he plays with the meter by repeating, stuttering, adding a bit here and there – all of which works flawlessly. In Richard III Rylance goes so far as to change the tragedy into a comedy. He flirts and teases the audience into becoming partners in his scheme to run the world – and it works. When he feigns innocence, we, already in on the plan, can laugh out loud. It is a tragedy with a funny bone. Go figure.
And a special nod goes to Claire van Kampen and the splendid musicians playing Renaissance instruments from the parapet. And to director Tim Carroll go lauds of all sort for pulling these various elements together and creating an iconic theatrical event.
Not for nothing, but I listen to Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC regularly, and more than once he has said, when referring to the Great American Songbook, “It always comes back to Rogers.” That would be Richard Rogers who is responsible for not only composing iconic music, but for influencing every composer who followed him.
For me, in the case of Richard III and Twelfth Night, it all comes back to Mark Rylance. While the other actors are fine and even excellent, Rylance possesses an intuitive grace and depth that is its own universe. It is he who leads us by the nose, and when he was not onstage, with a few exceptions, I was impatient for his return.
Which didn’t stop me from being bowled over by these productions. As proof of that, on the night I saw each I dreamed about them. That’s a first.
Get thee thither!!!
By William Shakespeare; directed by Tim Carroll; designed by Jenny Tiramani; music by Claire van Kampen; lighting by Stan Pressner; production stage manager, Arthur Gaffin; general manager U.S., Bespoke Theatricals; general manager U.K., Diane Benjamin and Fiona Stewart for Sonia Friedman Productions; technical supervision by Hudson Theatrical Associates. A Shakespeare’s Globe production, presented by Sonia Friedman Productions, Scott Landis, Roger Berlind, Glass Half Full Productions/Just for Laughs Theatricals, 1001 Nights Productions, Tulchin Bartner Productions, Jane Bergère, Paula Marie Black, Rupert Gavin, Stephanie P. McClelland, Shakespeare’s Globe Center USA, Max Cooper, Tanya Link Productions and Shakespeare Road. At the Belasco Theater, 111 West 44th Street, Manhattan, 212-239-6200, telecharge.com. Through Feb. 1. Running time for Twelfth Night: 2 hours 50 minutes. Running time for Richard III: 2 hours 45 minutes.
“Twelfth Night” (TWELFE NIGHT or WHAT YOU WILL) WITH: Liam Brennan (Orsino), Matt Harrington (Curio/Officer/Olivia’s Servant), Kurt Egyiawan (Valentine/Officer), Samuel Barnett (Viola), Terry McGinity (Sea Captain/Priest), Colin Hurley (Sir Toby Belch), Paul Chahidi (Maria), Angus Wright (Sir Andrew Aguecheek), Peter Hamilton Dyer (Feste), Mark Rylance (Olivia), Stephen Fry (Malvolio), John Paul Connolly (Antonio), Joseph Timms (Sebastian), Jethro Skinner (Fabian) and Bryan Paterson (Servant/Officer).
“Richard III” WITH: Mark Rylance (Richard), Liam Brennan (Clarence/Lord Mayor), Peter Hamilton Dyer (Brakenbury/Catesby), Paul Chahidi (Hastings/Tyrrell), Joseph Timms (Lady Anne/Grey), Terry McGinity (Rivers/Scrivener/Blunt), Samuel Barnett (Queen Elizabeth), Matt Harrington (Dorset/Bishop of Ely/Guard), Angus Wright (Duke of Buckingham), John Paul Connolly (1st Murderer/Cardinal/Ratcliff/Halberdier), Jethro Skinner (2nd Murderer/Messenger/Halberdier/Guard), Colin Hurley (King Edward IV/Stanley), Kurt Egyiawan (Duchess of York/Richmond), Matthew Schechter (Prince Edward), Hayden Signoretti (Duke of York) and Bryan Paterson (Servant/Officer).