Monday, September 26, 2011

Time to catch up on my last two theatre trips, both written by that promising Brummie William Shakespeare.

Both productions featured performances that had Must-See stamped on them but none more so than Kevin Spacey as RICHARD III - if ever there was a perfect marriage of actor and role this had to be it.
This production marked the end of the highly-publicised - and pretentiously titled - Bridge Project which featured Sam Mendes directing nine plays over the past 3 years which toured the world with a yearly company of actors drawn from the UK and the US. However none of the productions I saw seemed to be that successful with some remarkably ropey performances - mostly from the Americans to be honest.

The production was stark - each scene started with the first word of the scene projected on a scrim - and had a clunky stylised air such as certain doors that enclosed the playing space being marked with a X as another of Richard's victims bit the dust - we were treated to Gloucester being graphically drowned while others made do with just having their eyes closed by another company member. All very odd.
As with previous Bridge productions there were some remarkably dodgy performances - the prime suspects here were Chandler Williams as a Clarence who seemed to be channelling a bad Kirk Douglas impersonator, Michael Rudko as a dull Lord Stanley and Nathan Darrow as a dreary Henry, Earl of Richmond.

There were no particularly exciting male performers in the cast so let's move on to Spacey. As much as I enjoyed him I must admit that afterwards I felt a bit becalmed as he gave exactly the performance that I was expecting. The slithery delivery, the barnstorming theatricality, the glittering ambiguity... it was all there. To be honest though, nothing he did surprised me or made me see a hidden dimension to his character.

I must say Spacey's physicality was impressive with his twisted gait and calipered leg and, with his constant scampering around the stage, he had boundless energy.

In both acts Mendes and Spacey concocted indelible stage moments: in Buckingham's stage-managed attempt to 'persuade' Richard to accept the crown while he demurs to be left alone to his prayers, Mendes had him broadcast live on a tv screen seemingly shocked and tremulous to be interrupted praying, while at the same time surreptitiously pushing away the fake monks surrounding him. In the second act, as the Battle of Bosworth draws ever closer and Richard's paranoia increases he delivered his speeches in the ranting style of Gaddafi which really drove home the timelessness of the play.

His death scene - while physically impressive - rather defeated his performance. Mendes has the dead Richard hoisted aloft by his ankles, Mussolini-style, to sway above the stage while Henry delivers his speech to the glories of the Tudor age to come. All this did was to remind me of reports of Olivier's famous death scene in CORIOLANUS at Stratford in 1959 - and Olivier should never be allowed to enter people's minds when they are watching another actor play Richard III.
Oddly enough, for once the women ruled the roost - Haydn Gwynne (not an actress I usually warm to) was an impassioned Queen Elizabeth, Annabel Scholey was a forlorn Lady Anne and, in the real performance of the night, Gemma Jones gave us a thrilling Queen Margaret, haunting the stage in a top coat and wild hair. Her big scene where she denounces the Yorkist Queens was, for me, the highlight of the evening.I guess any time this play is performed it will always seem to mirror whatever despot is ruling somewhere in the world but with Gaddafi shrieking his revenge in a hidden location at all those seeking to overthrow him it made this 420 year old play remarkably contemporary.

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