After a battering from critics during his first season at the Old Vic, Hollywood actor turned artistic director Kevin Spacey faced a select group of arts journalists today to reveal programming details for his second season in the job (See The Goss, 6 Sep 2005).

Following this month’s opening of Richard II, featuring Spacey in the title role, the 2005/6 schedule will continue with, as reported earlier on, the Christmas return of Aladdin with Ian McKellen, and Hollywood legend Robert Altman directing one of Arthur Miller’s last plays, Resurrection Blues (See Today’s Other News). For 11 performances only, the Old Vic will also host the Motion Group’s new British Iraqi version of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale (See News, 22 Jul 2005).

Further ahead, to launch the Old Vic Theatre Company’s third season in September 2006, Spacey will reunite with director Howard Davies and the rest of the creative team of the multi award-winning 1998 revival of The Iceman Cometh, which transferred to the Old Vic following its initial season at the Almeida, for another Eugene O'Neill play, 1947’s A Moon for the Misbegotten.

A fourth slot in the season, falling between Resurrection Blues and A Moon for the Misbegotten, has not yet been announced though Spacey says there are currently three contending projects. However, judging by the work announced so far, the second season’s programme is markedly different from that of the first season, which concentrated on new (and according to some critics, sub-standard) work and which saw Spacey making his stage directorial debut as well as appearing in two productions.

Spacey will not be directing anything in 2005/6 and, after Richard II, will remain off stage until A Moon for Misbegotten a full year from now. The reason for the absence, the actor-director said today, came down to a “couple of things”. First, he didn’t want to “overplay my hand” or “overextend myself”. Second, he doesn’t want audiences coming to the Old Vic simply “because I’m on stage or any particular actor is on stage”. Instead, he hopes to “allow the novelty of my being on stage to wear off a little… so that this theatre is not on my shoulders as a performer.”

Despite the media backlash over the past 12 months, audiences have remained supportive of Spacey, as confirmed by a poll in which 80% of voters said that he’d done a good job in his first year (See Big Debate, Jun 2005). Spacey acknowledged that he felt “incredibly encouraged” by the audiences’ enthusiasm as well as the resulting “good shape” the theatre now finds itself in financially after a year in which 250,000 people attended productions that played to an average 70% capacity.

As for the press slings and arrows, Spacey is sanguine and undeterred from his “long-term commitment” to the Old Vic. “I walked into this job fully expecting to come under some criticism,” he said today, adding that it was “fine” for commentators to carp since “everyone has their job to do.” His primary concern, he added, is not garnering critical acclaim but building a loyal following of regular Old Vic patrons. “If somebody doesn’t like a particular play, that isn’t what you focus on. You focus on the job you have to do, which is getting 1,000 people in every night.”

Programme schedule

Following this month’s production of Richard II, directed by Trevor Nunn, which runs from 4 October to 26 November 2005 (previews from 14 September), the new Old Vic season will continue as follows:

  • Aladdin, running from 16 December 2005 to 22 January 2006 (previews from 7 December). Ian McKellen and Roger Allam will reprise their roles as Widow Twankey and Abanazar, with Frances Barber joining them as Dim Sum. The production is once again directed by Sean Mathias and designed by John Napier.

  • The Soldier’s Tale, running from 30 January to 4 February 2006 (previews from 26 January). Following a one-off performance last November of a translation by Jeremy Sams which starred Jeremy Irons, the UK-based Motion Group travelled to Baghdad where they developed the project as a collaboration with a British-Iraqi company of actors and musicians. This new Arabic/Israeli version - translated by Abdul Karim Kasid and Critics’ Circle Award winner Rebecca Lenkiewicz - will be performed, with surtitles, by a cross-national ensemble. The Soldier’s Tale is the Faustian story of a soldier who sells his soul to the devil in return for infinite wealth. Stravinsky worked on the original in 1918 while living in Switzerland, in the midst of war-torn Europe (See News, 22 Jul 2005).

  • Resurrection Blues, running from 22 February to 22 April 2006 (previews from 14 February). Spacey described Miller’s second to last play, which the author was rewriting in his final weeks, as a “remarkable…very funny…very provocative” piece that the Old Vic was “exceedingly excited” about premiering in the UK. Discussions about securing the rights for the Old Vic began before Miller’s death this past February. According to Spacey, Miller “loved the idea of it coming to this theatre”. The fact that they were able to get the legendary Hollywood filmmaker, Robert Altman, who had been a friend of Miller’s, to direct was a “double whammy”. No casting has been announced although the process has already begun in the US for what will be a cross-national company (See Today’s Other News for more info on this production).

  • Next summer’s production has not yet been decided, but there are “several balls in the air” and an announcement is due before the end of the year.

  • A Moon for the Misbegotten, running from September 2006. Set in 1923 in a run-down farmhouse in Connecticut, Moon revolves around quick-witted Josie, her scheming father Phil and their landlord, James Tyrone Jr (who also featured in O’Neill’s Long Day's Journey into Night, which was last in the West End in 1998), now an alcoholic older man still haunted by his mother's death. A Moon for the Misbegotten was revived to great acclaim in 2002 on Broadway where Gabriel Byrne played Tyrone, the part that will be performed by Spacey at the Old Vic. Spacey won a hat trick of Best Actor prizes – the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and Olivier – for the 1998 production of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, which subsequently transferred to Broadway. Davies’ other recent award-winning O’Neill credits include Mourning Becomes Electra at the National, where he’s an associate director.

    - by Terri Paddock