First Night: Twelfth Night/Richard III, Apollo Theatre. London

5.00

Fry's reined-in Malvolio defers to the brilliant Rylance

Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry stand at opposite ends of the acting spectrum. The former is a protean genius who can lose himself unrecognisably in his roles. The latter performs subtle clever variations on the Stephen Fry persona. So they make a piquant pairing – as the grieving Olivia and her jumped-up, killjoy steward Malvolio – in Tim Carroll's all-male, "original practices" production of Twelfth Night. In tandem with the same company's Richard III, it now achieves a gloriously successful transfer from Shakespeare's Globe to Shaftesbury Avenue.

Given that this is Fry's first stage appearance since his troubled exit from Cell Mates 17 years ago, it's hardly surprising that so much of the coverage has been focused on him – a disproportion that increased when it was decided that there would be no official reviewing of the production's short recent run at the Globe. The irony is that Fry's performance – intelligently pondered, generous to the other actors, and almost studiedly not a "star turn" by a celebrity guest artiste – is exactly the opposite in tendency. It restores balance to a play in which Malvolio's scenes can hog the limelight.

Fry's steward is a scholarly type with a mandarin accent and air of finger-wagging snootiness. Dreaming about becoming "Count Malvolio", he relays a gossipy titbit – "the Lady of Strachey married her yeoman of the guard" – with an erudite relish, as though he were holding forth on QI.

Rylance reprises his wondrously funny Olivia – white-faced, black-dressed, gliding round the stage as though on castors and tremulously failing to keep her awakened passion for Johnny Flynn's Cesario constrained under this almost Kabuki-like formality. The performance is a marvel of fluttery, brilliantly timed panic as his Olivia keeps struggling to reassert a show of demure composure after bouts of stammering disarray and slapstick consternation. Whether he's improvising ridiculous reasons to detain Cesario, or executing pottily perfect three-point turns in his voluminous gown, Rylance brings this woman's emergence from the stately safety of mourning to absurd and absurdly touching life.

The chameleon nature of the actor's genius is demonstrated by his equally mould-breaking portrayal of the title role in Carroll's Richard III, which is playing in rep with Twelfth Night. The performance has become deeper and more disturbing since it was first seen in the summer. Take the king's mountingly psychotic disconnection, and look at the chilling way Rylance starts to treat his Queen as a mere prop, using a finger to transfer her tears to his own unnervingly blank face.

The company too is superb in both plays, and it's remarkable how deftly a sense of the Globe's atmosphere has been conjured in an indoor proscenium arch theatre.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future