If music be the food of love, play on…

I discovered Mark Rylance this past summer. Before that, his name had been whispered to me a few times to accompany rave reviews about Jerusalem, in which he supposedly played an Olivier and Tony winning role that to this day counts as legendary. So it was with joy that I got a hand on tickets to see him on the Globe stage in an all male Richard III and with haste that I booked to see him dressed as Olivia in Twelfth Night, at the Apollo Theatre this time.

Compared with the cruelty that Kevin Spacey gave his Richard in the Old Vic’s production over a year ago, Rylance’s character choice was a more discrete duke and king, who is surprised at his own cleverness and feels slightly sorry for himself. The words that come out of the actor’s mouth are like music – Shakespeare’s words thrown into a new time and a new mind that wants to play with them, throw them around and give them a new meaning with every show. Rylance dances around the stage like a feather which, when crossing the paths of his victims’ ghosts, slips right through them. This destroys the chance of him receiving a last bit of help, in the moving and beautiful final scene before his fatal last horseless fight.

Following this summer, just last week I asked: If Stephen Fry as Malvolio is the talk of the West End transfer of Twelfth Night, why is it that I long for Rylance’s Olivia, the aloof widow floating across the stage who can provoke new laughs with but a syllable and makes us wish Olivia had more lines? 

One can feel Rylance’s pleasure at speaking the great playwright’s text and honour of traditionally dressing as a
woman and playing with his costume to the fullest. I understand now why he is considered one of the great Shakespearean actors of our time. There is something about Mark which completely releases the text to give it what its characters, even the most serious, always need – humour.

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