Kevin Spacey’s Richard III has been London’s most anticipated play for a while – there just seemed something so right about the casting. And for once you can believe the hype, since Spacey is superb as Shakespeare’s villainous king.
This Richard is a spin-doctoring politician. Not a subtle one, which gives rise to plenty of humour, but the tin-pot dictator of a nation ravaged by civil war. Sounds familiar? It’s supposed to – the surtitle that welcomes us at the Old Vic proclaims the winter of our discontent to be NOW. Spacey is an actor with his eye on the news, and bringing Richard’s mad-dog qualities to the fore gives his performance plenty of bite.
Surtitles also serve to introduce scenes with the names of Richard’s numerous victims, giving each episode a focus. It’s a simple, bold device on the part of director Sam Mendes that aids comprehension and adds tension. It also allows the women in the piece to shine through. Annabel Scholey as Lady Anne, who Richard woos in such bizarre circumstances, and his nemesis Elizabeth (Haydn Gwynne) both give striking performances.
Mendes infuses his production with the supernatural, courtesy of Gemma Jones in the role of Margaret. Victim of a previous coup in the Wars of the Roses, she’s not just full of curses but capable of enacting them, even making an appearance on the battlefield. Mendes’ treatment adds a fascinating dimension to the play – martial drums, used so effectively, double up in a chilling ritual of revenge.
So it’s really Sam Mendes who is the star of the show. Richard III marks the culmination of the Bridge Project, and taking the lead in this last production reflects Spacey’s dedication as part of the massive touring company. Uniting together British and American talent on a global stage brings out the best in both men and has resulted in a magnificent and long overdue rematch.
Until 11 September 2011
Photo by Tristram Kenton
Written 5 July 2011 for The London Magazine