Spacey and Mendes wow critics in Richard III
Award-wining actor and director come together in ‘electrifying’ new staging of Shakespeare play
More than a decade after Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey cleaned up at the Oscars with American Beauty, the pair have reverted to their winning director-actor relationship with a new stage production of Shakespeare's Richard III, and the critics are raving about it.
Spacey’s "powerful central performance" at the Old Vic is the work of a man who "acts with every fibre of his being", says the Guardian's Michael Billington.
By taking on the role of the crippled king - already made legendary by such theatre greats as Laurence Olivier, Antony Sher and Ian McKellen - "Spacey is part of a great tradition," says Billington, who goes on to praise Mendes for crafting "a beautifully clear, coherent modern-dress production".
Richard III is the final production in the Old Vic's so-called Bridge Project, which aims to bring together American and English actors.
The result is truly "spine-tingling", writes Paul Taylor in the Independent. Spacey is in his stride, combining "instinctive, stage-commanding authority with lovely, droll touches of drop-dead understatement".
Mendes and Spacey said they drew inspiration from the events unfolding in the Arab world, comparing the malevolent and tyrannical Richard III to the Gaddafis and Mubaraks of the world. Spacey told the Daily Telegraph: "These dictators... their idea of what a king looks like is very much based on English monarchy."
Charles Spencer in the Telegraph calls Spacey’s performance in turns "electrifying" and "laugh out loud funny”.
However, says Spencer, in spite of Spacey’s "brilliant display of bravura technique", or perhaps because of it, "you never quite forget that you are watching a cunningly calculated performance". Consequently, Spacey "misses greatness by a whisker".
Quentin Letts at the Daily Mail is not totally convinced either. "He is, as ever, a splendid performer," writes Letts, "but he is ultimately undone by a surfeit of sarcasm and campness."
Still, the "sheer showmanship" of Mendes's production and Tom Piper's set design is "remarkable" and "thrilling", says Letts. "Few productions can have been so eye-catching."
The women of the play also win high praise, from Annabel Scholey’s half-aroused, half-repulsed Lady Anne, the object of Richard's affections, to Haydn Gwynne's grief-stricken Queen Elizabeth.