The final production of the three-year transatlantic Bridge Project between New York's Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), London's Old Vic and Sam Mendes' Neal Street Production opened last night (29 June, previews from 18 June 2011) with Kevin Spacey reunited with Mendes for the first time since their Oscar-winning 1999 blockbuster American Beauty.

Unlike the Bridge Project's first two seasons, Richard III is a lone offering which plays the Old Vic with its transatlantic cast prior to an international tour and a New York run from January 2012.

Mendes' production appears to have wowed the critics, with many praising the supporting cast of Annabel Scholey, Gemma Jones, Haydn Gwynne and Chuk Iwuji. Spacey, courting the cinematic with the production's use of projection, also garnered positive notices, many drawing comparisons with great Richards of theatrical history.


Maxwell Cooter
Whatsonstage.com
★★★★

"Spacey's performance is mesmerising; right from the opening scene when he sits disconsolately in a chair, party hat askew while a newsreel detailing Edward's triumph plays in the background ... This is a portrait of a bitter man, poisoned with loathing for himself and the world around him but with a delight in black humour. His constant asides to the audience are exquisitely timed ... He has some great support too. Annabel Scholey is a fine Lady Anne... and Haydn Gwynne's excellent Queen Elizabeth is the perfect foil ... There's a tremendous performance from Chuck Iwuji as Buckingham ... Jack Ellis as a blunt, northern Hastings is also noteworthy. There are plaudits too for Paul Pyant's atmospheric lighting ... And yet, not everything works ... It's too heavy-handed to have Gemma Jones' deposed queen hanging around at every death ... The backdrop, announcing every character's name is a bit unnecessary ... London audiences have the chance to compare two very different productions of this play with Propeller's blood-soaked portrayal contrasting vividly to Mendes' exercise in statecraft driven by Spacey's towering performance. Nice choice for Londoners to have."

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph
★★★★

"Spacey has long excelled at the dark and sinister... even when you meet him in private there is something unsettling about him ... There is a curious grace as he minces around on his withered leg and turned-in foot and exactly the right kind of glee in his villainy ... He is superb too at moments of fake concern ... The wooing scene with Lady Anne... has a thrillingly perverse sexuality about it, helped by a superb performance from Annabel Scholey ... Compellingly watchable though he is, however, you never feel as you do with the truly great Richard IIIs that Spacey is exposing something dark and dangerous that he has discovered within himself ... Though Mendes’s production... is fluent and lucid, it lacks the striking invention and disconcerting dreamlike atmosphere of Edward Hall’s production now running at Hampstead ... At almost three and a half hours, it would greatly benefit from cuts. Among the supporting cast, there are fine performances from Haydn Gwynne; Gemma Jones as the ominous Queen Margaret; and Maureen Anderman as Richard’s appalled mother ... There is outstanding work too from Chuk Iwuji ... This is an exciting and richly entertaining production, but one that finally misses greatness by a whisker."

Paul Taylor
Independent
★★★★

"Mendes's new, eclectically modern dress production of Richard III demonstrates that it has been worth the wait ... Spacey's performance combines instinctive, stage-commanding authority with lovely, droll touches of drop-dead understatement ... Equipped with a brutally disfiguring hump and hobbled by a Keyser Söze-style limp, Spacey also communicates a terrible sense of the furious self-hatred ... Mendes's production is a model of clarity, fluidity and pace ... Spacey and the cast bring the play to trenchant life on both sides of the divide. This Richard's outrageously successful wooing of Lady Anne (Annabel Scholey) is a mesmerising study of how to capitalise perversely on adversity ... In addition to giving a modern spin to the black comedy of the political chicanery, Mendes deftly highlights the play's retributive structure. As each of her prophecies comes true and another victim bites the dust, Gemma Jones' brilliantly baleful bag-lady of a Queen Margaret steals in and chalks an 'X' on one of the doors. Spine-tingling, and a most compelling way for the Bridge Project to bow out."

Michael Billington
Guardian
★★★★

"Sam Mendes has come up with a beautifully clear, coherent modern-dress production in which the protagonist becomes an autocratic archetype. But the real buzz and excitement stems from Kevin Spacey's powerful central performance ... A Richard in whom instinctive comic brio is matched by a power-lust born of intense self-hatred ... What is impressive about Spacey is that he acts with every fibre of his being. His voice has acquired a rougher, darker edge ... The moment I shall cherish from this performance is that of Richard newly enthroned at the start of the second act. Spacey's eyes express the momentary exultation of power only to move in a second to a restless insecurity ... Contemporary clothes remind us how today's dictators seek spurious constitutional legitimacy and become skilful media manipulators ... Chuk Iwuji's smooth-suited Buckingham never seems close enough to Richard to make his rejection politically tumultuous ... Haydn Gwynne catches perfectly the moral revulsion of Queen Elizabeth ... Gemma Jones also makes Queen Margaret not some ranting harpie but a stern-faced necromancer ... Annabel Scholey makes Lady Anne's capitulation to Richard's saturnine charms almost credible ... When the history of Spacey's Old Vic regime is written, I suspect it will be his Richard, left dangling upside down like the slaughtered Mussolini, that will be most vividly remembered ... Spacey is part of a great tradition."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail
★★★★

"Spectacle assails you at every turn in the Old Vic’s strikingly theatrical Richard III. Director Sam Mendes throws everything at it... on the Old Vic’s enormous stage ... There is even Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey as the hunchbacked horror. But here’s the unexpected thing. Spacey, normally so good, does not quite nail the part. He goes close but is ultimately undone by a surfeit of sarcasm and campness ... Spacey gives him a lot of wise-guy Americanisms ... He is, as ever, a splendid performer. But where does the unique, flinty madness of Richard fit in with these off-the-peg mannerisms? Director Mendes compounds the problem by introducing a big screen close-up of Mr Spacey’s face when Richard is about to clinch the crown ... His gurning wins him lots of laughs. There were even guffaws when Richard condemns the young princes to death ... It should be a line to chill us to the kidneys. But it won laughs ... At its best, Richard III can be potent about the threat to the body politic of England. That is diluted here ... The women are really good, Haydn Gwynne... and Annabel Scholey ... The drumming... nearly upstages everything else. Few productions can have been so eye-catching but Spacey is not quite an Olivier."

Libby Purves
The Times
★★★★★

"As Richard... Kevin Spacey is on the big screen again .. The video moment is the big media event of his acclamation ... The reunion of Kevin Spacey and his director Sam Mendes... proves a thrilling display of both men’s dual expertise ... This is a proper, gruelling piece of live theatre, and confirms Spacey’s mastery of it ... His face — always tending to wide-eyed blandness — ever evokes the dodgy-uncle charm that makes him credible ... Spacey is master of the sexy sidelong glance, dragging out shocked unwilling laughs ... One of this production’s qualities is intense fidelity to the text ... Drums are used to threaten, to deafen, and by the dead on the battlefield. All the cast treat the text superbly, especially the women ... Gemma Jones is beyond praise... Annabel Scholey gives frozen horror beneath her jet-black fringe... and Haydn Gwynne grows from haughty queendom to shaking, wrenching, furious maternal grief ... We, 'beholders of this frantic play', are dragged into the nightmare deeper and deeper ... It was a relief to breathe out again, and stand in salute."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard
★★★★

"It reunites Kevin Spacey with Sam Mendes... It also represents the final instalment of the Bridge Project which has fostered collaboration between British and American performers. Spacey is immense as the monarch habitually (and unfairly) described as a hideous hunchback ... We see how doubts inspire his malignity and at the same time endow him with a perilous humanity. As his power increases, his confidence falters ... When he lights up momentarily, savouring some macabre joke, his relish for comedy seems a thing of agonising fragility. There are convincing performances around Spacey - the women better than the men. Haydn Gywnne's Queen Elizabeth is a model of appalled severity, and Gemma Jones is haunting as the widow of Henry IV, a mistress of the occult. Chuk Iwuji's Duke of Buckingham is an impressive mix of clipped courtliness and brassy evangelism, and there is cogent work from Chandler Williams as Richard's lyrical brother the Duke of Clarence. Mendes's account of the play is fluent ... Some of the production's gestures are calculated to make it feel cinematic and vibrantly contemporary ... Mendes also suggests the bitter primitivism of Richard's ambition. A couple of sequences involving mass drumming are especially powerful, evoking the pulse of hubris and nemesis. The clarity of the direction is admirable, and Spacey delivers a commanding physical performance that's bruised, dark and wickedly subversive."