Review: Richard III – Old Vic

The Shakespearian equivalent of the joke about waiting for a bus then two coming along continues. After the raft of Hamlets and King Lear’s playing concurrently recently it’s now the turn of Richard III to invade our stages. Propeller bringing their widely acclaimed, all male version, to Hampstead, and Kevin Spacey starring in the final offering of the transatlantic Bridge Project at the Old Vic.

While Propeller go for inventiveness, Spacey’s offering is much more traditional. That’s not to say this is some museum piece, mixing projection with an effective yet minimalist staging to convey an almost timeless setting despite its contemporary allusions.

While Propeller have taken the cutting knife to the text, here its only the odd minor tweak, though, despite the three hour fifteen running time, it’s a production full of pace and fluidity.

Director Sam Mendes has wisely avoid theatrical gimmicks and focuses very much on textual delivery, showing Richard not as some pantomime villain but a tortured soul, with as much self loathing for himself as the wider population have for the much reviled monarch.

Kevin Spacey’s performance is nothing short of mesmerising, from the first glimpse commanding attention without overpowering the piece. There is always a danger in turning Richard’s physical deformities into a grotesque caricature but here the physical imperfections are seamlessly integrated into the characterisation. Spacey has somewhat corned the screen market in malevolence over the years and on this showing its easy to see why, his Richard exudes evil but it’s a shockingly human evil, despicable yes but one that is readily understandable given the character.

Of course Richard III is more than a one man show and Mendes has assembled a strong cross-Atlantic ensemble to frame the central performance.

Maureen Anderman delivers an impressive rendition of Richards Mother the Duchess of York, pivotal in the physiological demise of her son. It is actually a strong female element to the cast with equally impressive performances from Gemma Jones as Margaret and Hadyn Gwynne as Elizabeth. Alongside Spacey there are though also good male performances. Chandler Williams as Chuk Iwuji’s Clarence and Buckingham both give beautifully drawn three dimensional portrayals that give clarity and understanding to the roles.

This may lack the quirkiness of Propeller’s Richard III but it proves to be a gripping, insightful look into the disturbed mind of one of Shakespeare’s most maligned characters and a fitting curtain call for the Bridge Project.

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