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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Old Vic


  Kevin Spacey and Annabel Scholey/ Ph: Alastair Muir

One of Shakespeare’s most vivid characterisations of Richard III is that he had teeth before he had eyes. Here, Kevin Spacey sinks his own canines into the role and worries it to death. This is a performance of extraordinary vigour, zest and relish. One senses Spacey and his director Sam Mendes – with whom he worked on the Oscar-winning American Beauty – going all out. On a purely physical level it’s a tour de force for an actor who turns 52 this month.

Spacey’s Richard seems twisted as much by self-aware ambition as by physical deformity, his body nimbly spiderish despite its gnarled leg and humped spine. He is a showman, winking at the audience in complicit enjoyment of his vicious charisma as he murders his kinsmen and woos their widows. The seduction of lady Anne is surprisingly erotic. There are daring nods to Spacey’s roll call of cinematic villains, not least when he is seen on screen, dissembling religious devotion in close-up when offered the crown, which allows him to demonstrate his nuance and subtlety.

There’s also even a bold hint of Olivier’s iconic Richard in the opening soliloquy. As a quick YouTube search proves, Spacey is also a fine mimic.

This is the last production of Mendes’ transatlantic Bridge Project, and fittingly it’s the best. The mixing of British and American actors doesn’t jar at all, although Spacey aside, most of the leads speak Received Pronunciation. There is strong support from a quartet of queens led by Hayden Gwynne’s imperious Elizabeth, and Chuk Iwuji’s sleekly politicking Buckingham, but Mendes even gives murderous henchmen space to breathe. The set is a long corridor of doors representing Richard’s victims, up which, in a brilliant piece of staging, he lurches to his coronation. Parallels with modern tyrants – with Richard in Gadaffi-esque epaulettes and shades – are lightly drawn.

Mendes drives the action with martial timpani, but even with a total running time of almost four hours the hectic opening and closing scenes seem curiously rushed. Never mind. I doubt we’ll see a finer, more vital Richard III in a decade.


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