I’d have died happy having seen both Anthony Sher’s and Ian McKellen’s Richard III; I will die even happier now I’ve also seen Kevin Spacey’s. If I were to write my memoires of a lifetime of theatregoing, this would be there in both the ‘Great Shakespeare productions and ‘Great Shakespearean performances’ chapters.
Sam Mendes production has a cinematic quality and races along at a pace like no other Shakespeare production I’ve ever seen, aided by Tom Piper’s simple but highly effective design. Until Richard’s coronation, it’s contained within three grey walls with sixteen doors; then the back wall is removed. There are so many interesting ideas here, as the play reveals itself to be a timeless study of the psychology of dictatorship. Richard’s journey is brilliantly evoked, from the man-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder to a fully-fledged tyrant. As we progress he adopts the trappings of autocracy, through to the medal-adorned military uniform & dark glasses.
What Mendes & Spacey do is bring out the darkness inside the would-be king; the ruthless, manic intensity is there for all to see. It’s not without its humour, with the grinning asides to the audience and a couple of Hollywood references (Groucho Marx’s cigar gesture and the calls for ‘Stanley’ imitating Oliver Hardy) but the darkness pervades the production. In the scene where the ‘public’ are enticed to champion Richard, the audience is the public and he’s on screen. The battle is conveyed by loud percussion, as the cast join the two off-stage percussionists used throughout. Richard’s dream the night before is superbly staged and the scene where he informs Haydn Gwynne’s Elizabeth that he is to marry her daughter is riveting.
This is Spacey’s eighth role on this stage and unquestionably his greatest. He gives the role a menace through the contortions of his humped and callipered body and the way he uses the volume and tone of his voice to convey Richard’s feelings and motivations. The lines direct to the audience draw you in to his inner self. The only problem with such a towering performance is that when he’s not on stage you find yourself waiting for his return.
Simon Tisdall’s excellent programme points out the parallels with modern dictators and examines their different backgrounds and motivations through to those recently and currently challenged by the ‘Arab spring’, with Gaddafi the most obvious one. Richard III always seems to be relevant whenever you see it and it certainly is today. This production is yet another fresh and timely look and a thrilling one it proves to be with a leading performance from an actor at the height of his powers. It’s a triumph for the Bridge Project, which will enable 500,000 people in 10 countries on 4 continents to see it. Lucky them. Lucky me.
- Gareth James
08 Aug 11
I haven't seen so much HAM on display since I visited my local Deli. Richard III? More like Carry On Dick. Mr Spacey even resorted to Jimmy Durante impressions! My partner thought he reminded him of Groucho Marx. The supporting cast were feeble and the set just got in the way. Why all the doors? If Brian Rix had coming running out with his trousers round his ankles I wouldn't have been at all surprised. God save us from actor/managers! Weak support and dubious direction made for a travesty of a production. I was reminded throughout of Richard Dreyfuss' Richard III in The Goodbye Girl, but at least that was meant to be camp comedy. - rds
07 Aug 11
Too funny by half, mainly because Spacey's overwhelming archness takes over the play too completely, pushing the play into the realm of knowing comedy. This could be Carry On Richard. By the time Spacey gets round to real emotions it's too little too late to do Shakespeare justice. But seen as a comedy, on it's own terms, this is actually quite good, and very unique and memorable. - Steve
31 Jul 11
The audience rose as one but it was celebrating the cult of celebrity in the person of Kevin Spacey, rather than a satisfying performance of a great Shakespeare play.
OTT performances, actors who seemed unfamililiar with how to speak Shakepeare's verse, too much shouting all left me unimpressed and wondering what all the fuss was about
Worst of all most of the audience thought they were watching a comedy. Richard's asides should chill as well as amuse but nobody seemed able to grasp this (they even laughed when no humour was intended)
Overall, a major disappointment - Len Klahr
25 Jul 11
Ive seen Kevin Spacey on stage a few times now. This has to best his finest performance yet. He completely inhabits the character of Richard III. There is not a single redeeming feature of his character in this performance. Spacey brings out every inch of the evil character of Richard and does it brilliantly. This production is blessed with wonderful staging and lighting which really add to the production. Some fine support too notably from Haydn Gwynne, Chuk Iwuji & Gemma Jones. This is a Richard III to savour - Paul Wallis
16 Jul 11
The women are also great but shameful OTT performances from the U.S. men who can't even speak the lines proper. - Faz
14 Jul 11
Shakespeare's Richard III is a massive piece of Tudor propaganda and therein lies my problem with the play. Although he was a monster and unquesionably responsible for the murders of the princes in the Tower, Shakespeare totally ignores the qualities the real Richard possessed - the psychopath portrayed here would never have generated enough loyalty to make a bid for the throne. Kevin Spacey does not explore beyond the characterisation provided by Shakespeare but, with those reservations, he produces an extraordinary performance of loathsome malevolence, although maybe not with the levels of self-hatred needed. The twisted deformity is played to the hilt but I dread to think what shape Spacey will be in by the end of the run. By far the best supporting performances come from the three queens (add jokes about certain cast members here) - Haydn Gwynne, Annabel Scholey and Maureen Anderman. Most of the Americans fare well with softened accents, but it is surprising to find that Henry Tudor arrived in Wales from somewhere west of Chicago. Spacey's tour de force inevitably gained a standing ovation but Richard III is a work of fiction rather than part of the Histories canon.
- David Baxter
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