Richard III, Globe Theatre, London
The Doctor's Dilemma, Lyttelton, National Theatre, London

3.00

Mark Rylance plays Richard III as a charming rascal whose dastardly deeds seem little more than amusing pastimes

It's seven years since the former artistic director of the Globe strutted on its stage, but Mark Rylance is back – as Richard III, an obvious heir to Jerusalem's Johnny "Rooster" Byron. Here again is a man who staggers on with a limp... but one that'll never stop him capering.

A hunchbacked Rylance holds close a tiny, withered arm. He speaks with a stammer – but it lends a kind of comic bumble. For this is a jovial Gloucester. Rylance may be facing personal sadness with the recent death of his step-daughter, but he steps on stage with a snigger, gurning at groundlings. Rather than an evil, sinister schemer, this Richard is merely a cheeky rogue.

Even with Rylance's deliberate stumbling, the verse is clear as a bell, and that goes for the rest of the cast too, presumably thanks to the director Tim Carroll's textual work (although he has given the script a good prune).

It's an all-male cast, and female characters move with a creepy gliding motion, as if on castors. In a play about artifice, there is little attempt to render them emotionally true (and Queen Margaret is exorcised altogether). Instead, cross-casting serves to heighten the mannered dissembling of the court; Carroll makes sense of Richard's unlikely wooing of Lady Anne (Johnny Flynn) by emphasising the affected nature of her lament. So how does Richard win her? Rylance becomes still, speaks softly. It's an audacious seduction, but an unflashy one, played as if genuine.

It's not, of course; Richard's simply better than everyone else at putting on an act. Indeed, in a court so full of fools – Samuel Barnett's uppity Queen Elizabeth, Colin Hurley's wheezing, flappy King Edward, Paul Chahidi's dim Hastings – seizing power is like stealing candy from a baby. Rylance plays the mock-faithful servant so playfully that lines such as "I am too childish-foolish for this world" seem newly apt.

There is little scheming between Richard and Buckingham (an underwhelming Roger Lloyd-Pack), and their dastardly deeds seem merely amusing pastimes. The solution to a problem – "chop off his head" – is exclaimed as casually as by another Carroll's Queen of Hearts; later Rylance tosses about Hastings' decapitated bonce as if it were a turnip. Buckingham's speech "persuading" Richard to accept the crown is full farce, complete with monks' habits and audience participation.

Playing it all as madcap escapade makes sense of Richard's most brazen moves. The request for strawberries shortly before decreeing a death is in keeping with Rylance's glib pantomime villain. Carroll has Lady Anne hold Richard's hand even as he announces she is sick and he intends to marry another. This is less chillingly calculating than bloody cheeky.

But it is still, supposedly, a tragedy. And in the final scenes, we do see a man increasingly confused, erratic. Richard's battle-eve speech reveals a glimmer of the small person inside, as a little, low voice confesses – without much drama – "I rather hate myself".

Even if he is losing his grip, Richard staggers into battle a fierce firebrand. But this (rather than a dodgy dream sequence of sheet-draped ghosts) is where Richard finally faces his demons, as he is confronted by those he has slain. It's a neat scene, showing Richard's mental as well as physical degradation; when Richmond finally stabs a sword through that poor hump it feels an ignominious end.

This is a terrifically enjoyable production, more full of laughter and buffoonery than any Richard III you're ever likely to see – well-suited to the Globe, and to Rylance's prodigious talents as charming rascal. But such an interpretation inevitably leads to serious losses – notably, of the nasty menace of his machinations, or any exploration of the darker side of human nature.

Playing for laughs, rather than addressing the cost of playing with human lives, mars The Doctor's Dilemma too. George Bernard Shaw's 1906 play is billed a tragedy but is also closer to farce.

Sir Colenso Ridgeon – a controlled but deeply expressive Aden Gillett – has just been knighted, for finding a cure for tuberculosis. His doctor pals congratulate him, and, while none seems convinced of his discovery, it's all back-slappingly chummy. Each has their preferred – often silly, pseudo-scientific or expensive – medical methods, be that fashionable surgery or "stimulating the phagocytes" (full credit to a wonderfully bumptious Malcolm Sinclair for turning this into an unlikely comic catch-phrase).

But, overall, the joke feels laboured: while the director, Nadia Fall, has trimmed the script, a sharper scalpel could still be taken to Shaw's fleshy text. Fall goes hard after any laughs, but there's a lot of doctor lampooning before we reach the dilemma.

A woman turns up begging Ridgeon to cure her husband, Louis Dubedat, a talented artist. He's roundly declared a genius, but it soon emerges he's a lying, cheating scoundrel who "doesn't believe in morality" – a fact of which his wife, Jennifer, is unaware. Also needing the cure is Ridgeon's old, faithful friend, the honest, bathetic Dr Blenkinsop. Ridgeon can save only one man: which will it be?

Actually, Blenkinsop soon becomes a side note. The urbane debate Ridgeon begins over whether it's better to save a good but talentless man, or a bad one who paints wonderful pictures, is soon muddied by a stronger emotion: love. Or sex, at least. Ridgeon confesses that, were Dubedat to die, he'd be straight after his gorgeous widow...

Genevieve O'Reilly conveys Jennifer's credulity without reducing her to a simpering idiot, and there's a sexy sparkle with her self-absorbed hubby, an engagingly louche Tom Burke. But if Dubedat is grossly selfish, so is Ridgeon. He claims to have Jennifer's best interests at heart, but his own motives are hardly pure.

The Doctor's Dilemma is staged well, but the play isn't one thing or the other. The black cynicism and gallows humour are enjoyable, but the doctors' blasé attitudes, tragi-comic deathbed scenes, and unappealing characters mean that, in both love and death, the stakes don't feel very high. It neither tugs at the heart strings nor fully tickles the funny bone, making positive diagnosis tricky.

'Richard III' to 13 Oct (0207 401 9919); 'The Doctor's Dilemma' to 12 Sep (020 7452 3000)

Critic's Choice

Director Nicholas Hytner shifts Shakespeare's riches-to-rags saga Timon of Athens to our own era of fat-cat bankers and the Occupy movement. Simon Russell Beale shines in the title role, at the NT Olivier (to 31 Oct). Gregory Doran's superb new RSC Julius Caesar, set in modern-day Africa, arrives in London too, at the Noel Coward (8 Aug to 15 Sep).

Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal