tue 15/10/2019

Globe to Globe: Richard III, Shakespeare's Globe | reviews, news & interviews

Globe to Globe: Richard III, Shakespeare's Globe

Globe to Globe: Richard III, Shakespeare's Globe

A spellbinding reinterpretation by the National Theatre of China

Zhang Dongyu dresses the part as Richard III

When Zhang Dongyu’s charismatic Richard III rose from the dead to take his bows for Sunday’s spellbinding afternoon performance by the National Theatre of China, the actor paused, remaining on his knees to kiss the stage of the Globe. It was a gesture both charming and wildly popular with the sodden but appreciative audience, affirming that, for the guest artists from afar, bringing their interpretations of the Bard to the Thames-side temple is a very big thrill and emotional experience.

(One has to guess by the way at who had which part, since the programme didn't marry the actors to their roles; Zhang was first on the list, though, so one assumes he played the lead. Could it be a People's Republic tradition to forego particular mention of the individual in favour of the group?)

Wang has folded into his naturalism elements of classic Chinese theatre and the Beijing Opera

The leading man's graceful gesture was followed by a visibly relieved and happy director (Wang Xiaoying) running up on stage to high five everyone in the 11-strong company (eight men, three women), making their UK debut. Not only had the performers overcome the downpour that has been a feature of the Globe to Globe season’s first week, but the actors beautifully made do without costumes, wigs, masks and props, all of which were reported to be languishing in a tempest-tossed cargo container somewhere off these shores. Colourful posters in the foyer showed how dazzlingly dressed the production was meant to be. As it was, attired in identical black robes with bits and bobs borrowed from the Globe’s stash (where there is always a crown to be had), the performers instead were forced to look to themselves to delineate characters sharply enough so as to impress the non-Chinese spectators – at a guess, about half the audience.

Surprises, cuts and changes came from the very start, though the doubling of roles that followed was par for the Globe to Globe course. Forgoing the opening monologue, one of the most famous in the English language, we instead got a snappy précis of the War of the Roses to date, with three witches dropping in from Macbeth to prophesy for Richard of Gloucester his murderous path to kingship. Interestingly, this lithe Richard is not misshapen and there is no reference to deformity, although his twisted psyche, envy, malice and sardonic humour are clear for all to see, Zhang fingering his blade impatiently, contorting in spasms of rage and smirking delightedly at his own ruthless cunning. Old Queen Margaret’s part, bigged up from Shakespeare very effectively, sees her appearing to crow and taunt at each murderous turn like an apparition from a Chinese ghost story.

Wang has folded into his naturalism elements of classic Chinese theatre and the Beijing Opera. An elegant Lady Anne poignantly sings her grief, while Richard’s two assassins clown acrobatically. From the balcony a lone percussionist enhances tension, emotion and pace with the assist of a range of traditional instruments. One wishes these visitors had used the Globe space more adventurously, but Buckingham’s wade into the groundlings, rousing the audience to acclaim Richard’s accession, was a mood-lightening highlight. The production may skip visual symbolism and any sense of the propaganda of Plantagenet-Tudor power politics but it scores for its intense confrontations and for a fascinating, mercurial villainy that needs no translation.

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