PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Richard III and Twelfth Night — Belly Up to the Bard, Boys

By Harry Haun
11 Nov 2013

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"I suppose it was to give me something to do. I think it was also the idea that this Richard III might not appear in a theatre like this if you didn't match it with something more popular. It was a good chance to show the company off in great contrast because what we're really showing is not these plays as much as this way of working on plays. It was good to do a History. I've done a lot of the other Histories — Richard II and stuff — but we also felt that the ensemble company of Twelfth Night would be so strong that it would benefit the Richard III, which I think it does."

Born in Ashford Kent, Rylance came to the U.S. with his parents when he was two, living first in Connecticut for eight years and then Wisconsin, eventually returning to London in 1978 on a RADA scholarship and working at RSC and Stratford-upon-Avon, building and fortifying a reputation as a world-class interpreter of the Bard.

His Anglo-American background well-qualified Rylance to be the first artistic director of The Globe, which came about because of another Anglo-American amalgam whom he saluted in a touching hands-across-the-sea curtain speech.

"He was an American actor. He left this country in the 1950s after the McCarthy hearings and went to London. In 1969 he had the vision that someone should rebuild Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. It took him the last 25 years of his life to convince us English that we should do that. He was helped an enormous amount by friends in England and in America. He died 20 years ago in 1993, three years before we finished The Globe. Everything tonight — the work of our brilliant director Tim Carroll, our co-producer Sonia Friedman, our set designer Jenny Tiramani, our music arranger and composer Claire van Kampen and, indeed, all of our experience comes through that vision — that American vision — that we should pay some attention, perhaps, to Shakespeare's words. He was one of the greatest friends, I think, that Shakespeare would have ever had, and he stands, to my mind, as a memorial to the great friendship that Americans have always had for Shakespeare. So, when you go out into the New York streets tonight, have a thought, of course, for Mr. W.S., the genius, but also for his great friend, Mr. S.W. — Sam Wanamaker."

Rylance, in his signature pork-pie hat with doggie in tow, was the last cast member to file into the pressroom that was set up just inside the entrance of Gotham.

Word was that Stephen Fry was receiving only the television interviewers, absolutely no print people at all — but he did relent if you shared the same birthday.

We regaled each other with historical events that happened on "our day" — St. Bartholomew's Massacre, the death of Valentino, the first successful English Channel swim. (Our Oscar-winner is Marlee Matlin, and we also claim Steve Guttenberg.)

A towering, imposing figure, Fry is the latter-day Renaissance Man — actor, writer, humorist, you-name-it — so he's well-placed in Twelfth Night, but he's nobody's fool, and for him to make his Broadway debut as the pompous, gullible, self-deluded Malvolio — to play him so earnestly and elegantly — is an astonishing feat. The character's vow of vengeance at his cruel pranksters pulls the audience over to his side and is a poignant game-changer. "Shakespeare often did that," remarked Fry.