Mark Rylance

Definition

Theater

  • (1960 - ) British actor and director, who created huge excitement as first artistic director (1995 - 2005) of the reconstructed Globe Theatre. Rylance was born in Kent, the son of teachers, but spent his childhood almost entirely in America. After training at RADA (1978 - 80), he began his professional career with the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre. The 1980s brought work with the English Stage Company and several fringe groups before he made his name in leading roles at the RSC - notably Hamlet (1988) and Romeo (1989).

    At this point Rylance's career took an unusual direction. In 1990 he founded the travelling company Phoebus' Cart with his wife, the musician Claire van Kampen. The company specialized in outdoor performances of Shakespeare in evocative historic settings, such as the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. In 1991 Phoebus' Cart performed a magical version of The Tempest at the site of Shakespeare's Globe, where the work of reconstruction had just begun; as a result Rylance was asked to join the board of directors. During the early 1990s he became increasingly involved in the Globe project while continuing to give flamboyant performances in Shakespearean roles; these ranged from an acclaimed Benedick (1994), which earned him the Olivier award, to a much ridiculed Macbeth (1995), in his own Hare-Krishna inspired production.

    When the rebuilt Globe opened under Rylance's direction in 1996, expectations were generally low, with most critics assuming that the commitment to historically authentic performance styles could only produce a dull 'heritage' theater aimed at tourists and school children. Rylance quickly proved the doubters wrong with a series of vigorous, challenging productions that also pulled in a large popular audience. With profits hitting £1.5 million a year the Globe is, by some margin, the country's most successful theater. As both star actor and artistic director, Rylance dominated the project in a style reminiscent of the great actor-managers of the 19th century. His own major roles included Henry V (1997), a wildly eccentric Cleopatra (1999), Hamlet (2000), Olivia in an all-male Twelfth Night (2002), and a valedictory Prospero (2005) in his last season at the Globe.

    Offstage, Rylance enjoys a reputation for his idiosyncratic opinions; his interests include alchemy and other 'alternative' traditions and he is one of the few theater professionals to subscribe to the view that Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him (see Baconian theory). His work for film and television includes the controversial Intimacy (2003), in which he performed unsimulated sex acts with the actress Kerry Fox, and the BBC's The Government Inspector (2005), in which he played Dr David Kelly. In 2007 he starred in a hugely successful revival of Boeing-Boeing, a 1960s farce about a man with three fiancées; the production later transferred to Broadway, where Rylance earned the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor. Other recent roles include Hamm in Beckett's Endgame(2009) and the larger-than-life Johnny 'Rooster' Byron in Jez Butterworth's much praised Jerusalem, which earned Rylance the 2010 Olivier Awardfor Best Actor.

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