Ladies and Gentleman, please welcome your host for the evening…Kevin Spacey

Richard III – The Old Vic, booking until 11 September 2011 and then on international tour

After three years Kevin Spacey’s slightly underwhelming time at the helm of the transatlantic Bridge Project is coming to an end. In finding a play worthy of closing the season and rounding things off with almighty bang, it is hard to image too much time was spent time arguing whether Richard III fitted the bill. With Sam Mendes returning to theatre and reviving the collaborative relationship that turned American Beauty from interesting mid-budget indie-pic into a major Hollywood hit, a bona-fide English classic (a treat in what otherwise has been a rather barren diet of macho-slices of Americana from the Old Vic) that is an audience favourite and most importantly a lead role that appears tailor-made for a man who has made unsettlingly charming characters his stock in trade.

It is evident from the outset that Mendes is fully aware of where interest in this production lies. With no disrespect to the rest of the cast, this is as much the Kevin Spacey spectacular as it is Richard III. It is, in short, what the audience, who are paying considerable amounts to be there, are hoping for: towering, powerhouse, barnstorming, tour de force. Critics have been reaching for the thesaurus for ever more obscure ways of acclaiming the performance, even if the production itself does not always reach such high standards.

This is very much acting with a capital ‘A’. More importantly it is acting that is only rarely seen on the English stage nowadays. There is more in common with the greats of the past than the more modern approach, which has seen overt performing dialled down in favour of a more studied psychological approach. Compared with the recent Hamlets of Kinnear, Tennant, which looked to develop particular strains of the character, Spacey’s performance risks looking brash and overbearing.

However, whilst it is clear that Spacey is having tremendous fun in the role, this is a world away from the bombastic delivery of an old ham; he is far too intelligent an actor for that. A more accurate depiction would be to describe it as a masterclass of camp; in its most traditional sense of ‘ostentatious’ and ‘exaggerated’. This is the knowing performance of a man who understands both the play and how to hold the audience in the palm of his hand. The brief flicker of the eyes out to the audience when telling Lady Anne ‘My tongue could never learn sweet smoothing words’ was eerily reminiscient of Frank telling Brad ‘It wasn’t all bad was it? Not even half-bad in fact…’ in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Continue reading here