Spacey returns to Old Vic in 'barnstorming' Clarence Darrow
Spacey has reprised a familiar character at the Old Vic and coolly handled a mobile phone interruption on opening night
Spacey, who opens the show by crawling out from under a messy desk and spends the first few minutes in teasing silence, casts his enraptured audience as jurors. The Old Vic's in-the-round configuration lends itself perfectly to the character of Darrow, a man totally at home in packed courtrooms, and Spacey dominates it with a furious energy, his limp only adding to the menace… A ringing mobile phone in the second half afforded further opportunity for him to show his dominance - "if you don't answer that, I will!", he snapped at the unfortunate woman, to a hearty round of applause... A flaw of his performance is the lack of tonal variety. In the lingo of Spinal Tap, Spacey starts out at '11', and, though he manages to crank this up to a '12', it leaves him with little wiggle room.
… The knowledge that he'll be leaving next year makes this charismatic one-man show feel like a swansong … After a deliberately slow and finicky start, Spacey launches into the performance with such gusto that it's hard to imagine how he'll sustain it. But the intensity never drops as he prowls around the stage and roams up into the audience … Despite the character's stooped posture and apparent fragility, his hallmark is a blazing defiance. Even his interactions with the audience feel gutsy – and on press night included a smart reprimand to a theatregoer whose phone chirruped distractingly. Occasionally I found myself wondering if Spacey shouldn't turn his own volume down a little. Several of his best moments come when he softens and adopts a more contemplative tone. Yet he needs to be full-throated to ensure he's audible in this sizeable venue (here configured in the round)…
… Kevin Spacey gives a big, barnstorming performance as the famed American lawyer, Clarence Darrow … in the Old Vic's new configuration, Spacey is having to perform in the round. He does this magnificently. His Darrow has a slight stoop and sagging walk as if his knees were buckling under the weight of his moral indignation. But the dominant impression is one of ferocious energy as Spacey roams around the cluttered law-office set and periodically bursts out of its confines to eyeball members of the audience as if they were jurors he was seeking to persuade or harangue …
You have to take your hat off to Kevin Spacey. Here is a film star who has committed himself to the theatre, and when the going got rough, as it sometimes did with several spectacular flops, he kept on punching and refused to quit … Spacey is entirely alone on stage and playing in the Old Vic's dramatically reconfigured in-the-round auditorium . How can one actor possibly hope to engage in this big house with an audience that completely surrounds him? Inevitably he must have his back turned to a large section of the audience at any one time. The answer is that Spacey prowls round the stage like a battered old prize fighter, constantly on the move as he buttonholes members of the audience, and radiates a charisma and a dramatic attack that is often spellbinding. There are moments when he seems to be speaking just to you. It is inevitably a somewhat shouty performance, as Spacey has to make himself heard all round the house, but the sheer energy and attack of this tour-de-force is exhilarating.
Is that it? I thought as Kevin Spacey completed his first one-man show, an impassioned tribute to the great American lawyer of the title. Since I was thinking such mutinous thoughts surrounded by an audience giving him a standing ovation for this powerhouse indulgence, it's fair to assume that I was not tapping into the mood of the crowd... If you want complexity, inner life or masterclasses in manipulation, best to stick to House of Cards... Confronted by a ringing mobile on opening night, Spacey threw away an ad lib ("If you don't answer that I will") with a lightness that deserved its applause. It is far from a po-faced evening... Here, though, Darrow's bounteous complexities and contradictions get ironed out and his life becomes just one gutsy triumph after another.
It's a slightly clunky and romanticised retrospective but Spacey's mordant, open-hearted performance – directed by Thea Sharrock – brilliantly captures the fusion in Darrow of boundless crusading zeal unashamed theatrical showmanship. He prowls about on splayed arthritic legs like a veteran prize fighter who refuses to be felled and splendidly squares the circle of performing a solo show in-the-round by repeatedly breaking the frame and buttonholing various sections of the audience as though they were jurors. Darrow's claims to greatness as a battered but unbowed humanitarian find, in Spacey, the perfect advocate.