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When Sir Mark Rylance Visited the Criterion

The Criterion Theatre was honoured to welcome a very special guest to its sold-out performance of I Am Shakespeare - the author of the play and acclaimed actor and director Sir Mark Rylance.

Sir Mark was accompanied to the performance on October 19 by Claire van Kampen, composer and director, who has most recently directed The Globe's latest production of Othello.

I am Shakespeare is Mark Rylance’s debut play, and the Criterion was the first company to stage it since its original production run in 2007.

As the director of the play I have been in contact with him ever since, gaining the rights to stage it and was lucky enough to be invited to a reading of it by Mark and friends at Brunel University in April this year.

We were very keen that Mark should be able to enjoy the performance without any pressure or demands, but during the interval he asked me if we would like a Q&A session for audience members with him, and I obviously jumped at the chance.

Questions from the audience included ‘Why did you set it in a garage?’ and ‘Who is the character of Barry based on?’, and he relayed some of the controversy and sometimes disruptive audience reactions that accompanied his original production, none of which thankfully the Criterion faced.

Perhaps the Shakespeare authorship question is just less contentious now, or our local audiences are just more willing to be open minded.

Mark then spent time privately meeting the cast and crew. He congratulated us on our production, which he thoroughly enjoyed, complimenting us on its quality, on the comic timing of the actors and the ways in which we had made the production our own.

Very modestly, he also acknowledged some parts of the play where on viewing, he felt the writing could be improved. Perhaps a rewrite and a future new production might be forthcoming?

Most heart-warming for us, Mark also commented on the real sense of community we have in the Criterion company, and the close connection we have with the audience, both things he feels have been lost in many professional theatres. He was a true gentleman- kind, generous and completely down to earth. The visit was obviously a major coup for us as a theatre and the whole place is still buzzing from the experience.

- Anne-marie Greene, Director, I am Shakespeare, Oct 13th-20th, 2018.

Sir Mark is pictured centre with the cast and crew of I am Shakespeare. To his immediate left is Anne-marie Green, director, and to his right Jon Elves, Chair of the Criterion, who played Frank, the character also played by Mark Rylance in the original production.

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