Review Roundup: ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘Richard III’

In a New York theater season packed with Shakespeare, Twelfth Night and Richard III playing in repertory, opened on Nov. 10 at the Belasco Theatre. Two-time Tony winner Mark Rylance (Boeing-Boeing, Jerusalem) heads the company as the lovestruck lady Olivia in Twelfth Night and the title tyrant in Richard III. Also starring are Golden Globe nominee and British TV personality Stephen Fry (Wilde, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) and Tony nominee and Drama Desk winner Samuel Barnett (The History Boys, HBO’s John Adams). These productions from Shakespeare’s Globe, both directed by Tim Carroll, were critically hailed when they played London and feature such authentic elements from the Bard’s day as an all-male cast, lighting by a hundred candles, the actors preparing their costumes and make-up in view of the audience, and an onstage orchestra playing instruments of the Elizabethan period. Did the critics swoon for this Shakespearean double-header? Here are excerpts from the major critics.

Mark Rylance as Olivia in Twelfth Night and as Richard in Richard III (Photos: Simon Annand)

Mark Rylance as Olivia in ‘Twelfth Night’ and as the title character in ‘Richard III’ (Photos: Simon Annand)

Ben Brantley, New York Times
“These productions are suffused with that most fundamental of Shakespearean virtues, faith. The performers here trust wholly in Shakespeare’s words and in the ability of the audience to understand them. So many interpretations of the canon now are tricked out in the condescending, high-concept garb of anachronistic settings, with comedy that exaggerates the (yuck, yuck) bawdy parts with broad, illustrative gestures. Mr. Carroll and Mr. Rylance are having none of that, nor is any of the consistently excellent supporting cast. They let the language lead them to the characters. Because they know what they’re saying—and where what they’re saying comes from—we do, too.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“Rylance is surrounded by a sublime company, who move seamlessly between the plays. In Twelfth Night Samuel Barnett’s endearing Viola; Paul Chahidi’s foxy Maria; Stephen Fry’s maligned Malvolio and Angus Wright’s absurd Andrew Aguecheek are invaluable. In Richard III, Joseph Timms and Liam Brennan stand out, respectively, as Lady Anne and the doomed Clarence. Faced with good fortune that has magically been multiplied by two, Olivia expresses her sheer joy this way—‘Most wonderful!’ Same goes for this double-decker delight.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“[Richard III] belongs to Rylance. His Richard uses his deformity to look pathetic and better manipulate his victim—watch him make people uncomfortable with his atrophied hand, which hangs from his cape like a mummified monkey paw. Acting like a sad, bumbling clown, Richard gets laughs. It’s a fascinating choice, even if we lose a lot of Richard’s evil edge. Twelfth Night is the better show, but seeing both productions lets you watch the actors slip into completely different roles. You’re not just going to the theater—you’re experiencing what makes it magic.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“Both plays from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London that were also hits in the West End are being performed in repertory here and opened Sunday at the Belasco Theatre, offering a darkish comedy the lightest of stagings and a pitch-dark tragedy played for laughs.They bring the plays alive, brilliantly and made immediate, even if Twelfth Night nudges ahead of its more homicidal cousin if the cost of seeing both is prohibitive, although the producers have admirably offered huge student discounts. Taken together, these are pure sweet and sour joy.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“As the lovestruck noblewoman Olivia in Twelfth Night and the titular monster of ambition in Richard III, Rylance is simply astonishing. But what’s more surprising is that every single member of this magnificent company more than holds his own, showing comparable versatility in contrasting roles. What could happily have been The Mark Rylance Show turns out to be so much more.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“Toplined by Mark Rylance (Jerusalem), who plays the title monarch in Richard III and makes a lovely Olivia in Twelfth Night, these amazing thespians faithfully observe the theatrical rituals and customs of Elizabethan times, including the tradition of playing broad comedy directly to the rowdy groundlings in the cheap seats.  And how we do love it!”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“In their staging and treatment of the verse, the actors and crew behind Twelfth Night and Richard III aim for an Elizabethan aesthetic—from the initial ceremonial lighting of candles to the final full-cast jig. They achieve a spectacle of surpassing elegance and buoyancy: We see a classic comedy and a bloody tragedy in their pure Shakespearean glory.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“Suffice it to say that you needn’t be a Rylance devotee—or even love his work here unconditionally—to enjoy either production.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“The supporting players are consistently excellent. Angus Wright is an appropriately weaselly Buckingham in Richard III and a hilariously dim-witted fop as Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night. Barnett, his face pancaked for both plays, is finely expressive as both Elizabeth in Richard III and Viola in Twelfth Night. And in Twelfth Night, several of the comical performers stand out: Stephen Fry as the ultimately sympathetic spoilsport Malvolio, Peter Hamilton Dyer as the quick-witted fool Feste, and Paul Chahidi as Olivia’s mischievous maid Maria.”

David Finkle, Huffington Post
“Though Rylance is top-billed—it’s unlikely the troupe he’s brought with him would be here without him—this is no instance of a 19th-century-like actor-manager touring with a company populated by pick-up performers. This is as accomplished an ensemble as has been seen locally in a long while and thus worth giving thanks for.”