Hollywood actor-turned-artistic director Kevin Spacey (pictured) has come under fire this week for the programming choices in his Old Vic inaugural season to date, particularly the UK premieres of Dutch writer Maria Goos’ Cloaca and, this week, American Dennis McIntyre’s National Anthems, both of which received a mixed to poor critical reception (See Today’s Goss). However, there’s a classical light at the end of the tunnel.

Though exact dates have yet to be confirmed, the Old Vic announced today that Spacey will play the title role in a new production of Richard II, directed by Trevor Nunn, as part of this autumn’s new season. A former artistic director of both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, Nunn’s previous acclaimed Shakespeare productions include the Whatsonstage.com Award-winning Hamlet, which starred Ben Whishaw at the Old Vic last year just before Spacey’s tenure in charge began.

A theatre spokesperson told Whatsonstage.com today that the production makes good on Spacey’s promise to return to the classics in his second season. At a press conference held last April (See News, 22 Apr 2004), he said that, though his initial programming concentrated on new work – which he described as the “responsibility of a theatre company to seek out” – he was “mindful of the historic traditions of this theatre, classics will also take their place. In due course, I intend to tackle Shakespeare and some of the great roles that have made this theatre’s reputation such a remarkable one.”

The classics would begin to be incorporated into the Old Vic programming “in our second, our third, our fourth and all the seasons beyond”, said Spacey last year. But before deciding which pieces from the canon, he was keen to hear which roles people would most like to see him play. In response to that invitation, Whatsonstage.com ran a Big Debate poll to help Spacey make up his mind.

In the poll, Richard II - as well as Richard III, which was previously tipped (See The Goss, 16 Sep 2004) - featured in the shortlist of ten Shakespearean roles that theatregoers would like to see the actor play. However, popularity-wise, it didn’t come close to the top three theatregoer-led casting choices for Spacey: Macbeth (which 98% of voters would pay to see), Iago in Othello (85%) and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing (85%).

Spacey has performed Shakespeare in his native US. His first professional role was as the messenger in Henry VI at New York’s Shakespeare Festival in 1981. More recently, on screen, he played the Duke of Buckingham in Al Pacino’s 1996 film Looking for Richard. This will mark Spacey’s UK Shakespeare debut. The actor is currently appearing in National Anthems at the Old Vic, where he’ll also appear in the next production, a revival of Broadway comedy, The Philadelphia Story, directed by Jerry Zaks.

- by Terri Paddock