He of the title may be more associated with Leicester than London, having died there for want of a horse, but I have to say that he inspired a terrific play. We saw the latest production last weekend at the Apollo, and it was even better than the one put on a year or two back by Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic. The inestimable Mark Rylance played the last of Plantagenets, to the hilt and beyond, in a wickedly funny and chilling tour de force that didn’t miss a beat.
In this play Shakespeare pretty much coined the character of the overly ambitious, dissembling, murdering, unpredictable psychopath, climbing the greasy pole by stamping on all around, an early Hitler or Stalin (currently Putin or Assad?) conniving and killing his way to the top of the tree, until his downfall, a sticky end which the sickening manner of his rise to power made inevitable.
This production was first seen at the Globe, and much of the atmosphere of that arena was recreated in the frilly-knicker Edwardian surroundings of the Apollo, in part by building two small galleries of seats on the stage itself, so that the actors were almost surrounded by the audience, in the original Elizabethan style. The costumes too were Elizabethan, and we took our seats in a side gallery by walking through the actors as they dressed and warmed up on stage in front of the audience, as one might have done in the earliest days of the theatre. The female roles were played by men, helping further create the illusion that one was watching the original production of the play in 1591. It was an extraordinary evening.