Image courtesy of www.oldvictheatre.com
Richard III – Old Vic Theatre, London
I suppose the main draw for this production would be the American Beauty Oscar winning partnership of Kevin Spacey and director Sam Mendes, and they don’t disappoint.
Firstly the rest of the cast, Gemma Jones is glorious as the ghostly Queen Margaret, only on stage for a small proportion of the play she succeeds in out shining many of her co-stars.
Haydn Gwynne takes a while to become comfortable in her role as Elizabeth, but when she does she is a joy, excelling in the scenes where she verbally battles with Richard himself.
Annabel Scholey is beautiful as Lady Anne, who just moments after the death of her husband is being pawed at and seduced by his own murderous brother.
Chuk Iwuji is also particularly good as the Duke of Buckingham, naïve and villainous in equal measures before realising rather belatedly that he is ultimately doomed and will be spectacularly betrayed by the power-hungry antagonist.
However the peculiar casting of Katherine Manners and Hannah Stokely as the Princes in the Tower, Richard and Edward, made no sense and felt rather too gimmicky for my liking.
So what of Spacey himself?
It didn’t really bother me that he spent most of the play sounding like he had just stepped off the plane, except it would have bothered me even less if he hadn’t delivered his first monologue with a perfect English accent.
It would soon become clear though that this was less about historical English figures and more about the story of an obsessive , controlling and villainous tyrant who was prepared to go to any length in order to become King.
Spacey has made a career, most notably on screen, of perfecting the legendary baddie, and here he is no different, this is an amalgamation of all of these previous character traits, seething resentment, wise-cracking cynicism, and heaps of self-loathing poured into this one creation, and to top it off a hunch backed, limping physicality reminiscent of Keyser Soze himself.
He is unavoidably watchable, with perfect diction and a range of expressions which are clear and visible right up in the circle which is where I was seated. This is an actor who knows how to play to a live audience, his false smiles and forced friendliness towards his family are brilliantly exaggerated, then immediately after they have left the stage these are replaced by sneers, grimaces and sarcastic remarks, all aimed towards the audience as he breaks the fourth wall.
There is no doubt that he mesmerising in the lead role and that it was a part he was born to play.
The use of video and projections also play a large and clever part of this production. The names of Richard’s next intended victims are projected onto the wall behind. His own ascension to the throne is also made into a humorous televised segment broadcast directly to the audience on a large screen.
Complimentary lighting fits well with Tom Piper’s sets, made up of a nice architectural style design of receding walls and multiple doors. However, I was slightly disappointed by the lack of blood, I wasn’t expecting or wanting buckets of it but also couldn’t help but find the over simplified use of chairs, covered eyes and light switches a little pretentious.
Overall it is a compelling and mesmerising piece of theatre but at nearly three and a half hours it is also a long, arduous lesson in perseverance, and one that I’m not sure I’ll be rushing back for in a great hurry.