Richard III (Old Vic, 9th July 2011)

There’s been a lot about the celebrity and Shakespearean performance recently and I think that the Old Vic  production of Richard III is  a really good example of a performance that centres around one star performer. This is to be expected because Richard III centres around one character, but there is no doubt this production has Kevin Spacey’s performance at the very centre and other performances tend to be marginalised.  Only Haydn Gwynne as Elizabeth is an equal match to Spacey’s Richard, and the Elizabeth wooing scene is one of the most engaging in the whole production.

Though, I thought Haydn Gwynne gave a very strong performance as Elizabeth, the other women did a good job as well. Gemma Jones presents Margaret  as a figure from the past who seems to be  infiltrating this modern world of politics and spin.  She’s clearly out of place in the court world. The persuasion of Richard to become King is effectively carried out with Spacey backstage caught on camera praying and Chuk Iwuji’s Buckingham puts on the performance that convinces those observing that Richard is being coaxed into agreeing to become king. The use of the screen and the backstage presence works well as a great example of the spin doctor at work. The audience is aware that this is all and act and it is too close to scenes we see on the television news when there is a leadership race about to happen.

When the audience enter the theatre, the word “Now’ is projected on the safety curtain. Through out the performance key words are projected on the back of the staff or across the walls on each side, which has the function of highlighting the episodic nature of the play.

Spacey’s Richard starts the production sat own wearing a paper crown. However, it is clear that the play will not continue the party theme. The word ‘King’ is projected in the Interval. It’s a reminder that as soon as Richard gets everything he wants he starts his descent from power.The moment of enjoying being king does not really exist for him. Just after Richard is crowned he stumbles as he processes up the stage and this fall echoes the way he stumbles politically as well from this point.

The set seemed to sit uncomfortably on the stage as if it had to be squeezed on. This had a real relevance in that it was a perspective that suggested the psychological aspects of this production.  The door of death has been seen recently in the RSC’s Macbeth, and is used to great effect here as a cross marks the door in which the dead have exited through.

There were other really good aspects of this production including the drumming, which is very effective and the ghost scene at the end is done really well.  There’s a stunning ending as the dead Richard hoisted up on a hook.

The afternoon that I went there was a standing ovation, and it was well deserved.

Reviews and Comment

Richard III, Old Vic, London<br/>Lullaby, Barbican Pit, London<br/>The Beggar’s Opera, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London – Reviews, Theatre & Dance – The IndependentFirst Night: Richard III, Old Vic, London – Reviews, Theatre & Dance – The IndependentRichard III, Old Vic – review | TheatreThe Stage / Reviews / Richard IIIRichard III – review | Stage | The GuardianRichard III, Old Vic, review – TelegraphRichard III, from Laurence Olivier to Kevin Spacey – in pictures | Stage | guardian.co.uk

The Misanthrope (The Comedy Theatre, 16th January 2010)

The production looked like a very traditional proscenium arch comedy with its elaborate set.  The plot contained all the elements of a farce, the confusion, character types  and  even some entering and exiting through different doors in the set.  There was a play on the fact that it was a modern-day production of a seventeenth-century text.  Not so subtle devices were  used to make the historical links.  For example, the music transformed from seventeenth century to contemporary dance music.  At the end of the play all the cast, except Alceste  (Damian Lewis),  were dressed in historical costumes, on the pretence that they were dressed for a fancy dress party.  Characters talked in rhymes, some of which weren’t that obvious and the speech flowed along.  Some rhymes were surprising and other rhymes jarred which made me listen even more to try and hear them for their amusing effect.  At time, the language became strange and very theatrical and I felt I was taken into an unreal comedy world, to the point that, strangely it felt like I was watching a parody of a farce.

The plot was based around celebrity and our celebrity obsessed culture.   I’m sure this was deliberately ironic in casting Keira Knighley as Jennifer, which for me added to the feel that I was watching parody of a farce, because casting was asking me to bring references from outside the play world.   However, the cast was a strong cast overall and indeed Knightley’s programme biography is by far the shortest, though her film work is what has brought her to the attention of a wider audience outside the theatre.   I felt that Knightley didn’t have same presence on stage as she does on film.  Alongside Kelly Price  (as Ellen) and Tara FitzGerald (as Marcia), the women in the play were very funny and central as a group to the success of this production.  Damian Lewis was an excellent as Alceste.  Standing out from the rest of the cast, he was able to rant and pronounce on moral standards and at the end of the play through his own stubbornness was left isolated from the other characters.  

Previews and Reviews

The Misanthrope (The Telegraph)
The Misanthrope in The Observer
The Telegraph – Damian Lewis The Misanthrope interview
The Misanthrope in The Financial Times
The Misanthrope (The Stage)
The Misanthrope (Official London Theatre Guide)
The Misanthrope (First Night in The Independent)