Thursday, October 27, 2011

theatre review: Richard III

To the Curran Theatre in the City to sit in the upper balcony and look down at the top of the actors' heads. The play was Richard III starring Kevin Spacey in the title role. You know him; he read Buckingham in Al Pacino's workshop film Looking for Richard.

The rest of the cast in this production was adequate, if sometimes a little dull when the Big Bad was offstage. The strongest of them was Gemma Jones (the other name film actor in the cast: she was Renée Zellweger's mother in Bridget Jones's Diary and Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet's mother in Sense and Sensibility) as Queen Margaret, whose curse the director designated as the presiding spirit of the show: she spends a lot of time lurking at the back of the stage even if the script says nothing about her being there.

Spacey had flaws: his ranting was too monotonously-pitched (oh, for a little Pacino here), and his portrayal of Richard's descent into terror near the end was unconvincing. But as a crafty schemer, he gave a delightfully captivating, often comic performance, hot where Pacino (and Ian McKellen) were icy cold. To heck with critics who say Spacey doesn't have the classical acting chops to carry it off. The line readings were very carefully considered, with the humorous effect often achieved through ingeniously placed pauses. For instance:
  • "For then I'll marry Warwick's youngest daughter. / What though I kill'd her husband and her father?" came off, with the key word rendered rather like in the clip linked to, as "For then I'll marry Warwick's youngest daughter. [pause, looks at audience] What? [longer pause, looks more challengingly] Though I kill'd her husband and her father?"
  • Instructing Buckingham to impute the bastardy of King Edward, Richard's elder brother: "But touch this sparingly, as 'twere far off, / Because you know, my lord, my mother lives" transformed by one tiny casual contemporary inflection and the addition of a comma: "... Because, y'know, my mother lives." (I think he cut the "my lord" but I don't remember for sure.)
All of Richard's famous lines, from "Now is the winter of our discontent" on, were delivered with freshness and imagination, with only the ranting "My kingdom for a horse" falling short. The most perfectly rendered scene was Act 3, Scene 7, the one in which Buckingham (ably played by Chuk Iwuji) lures a crowd of Tea Partying citizens into acclaiming Richard as king, aided by Richard's show of saintly reluctance for the role. This was interestingly staged, with Richard "at his devotions" offstage, appearing only on a large low-res b&w video screen projected over the onstage actors' heads at the back. (Occasional touches, like this, of slightly outdated modern setting evoked McKellen's film but did not clash with the largely stark and abstract staging.) When Buckingham calls to Richard, Spacey turns towards the camera and mimes, "Who, me?" And it was hilarious watching Spacey's Richard trying to hide a feeling of panic when Buckingham, pretending to give up his entreaties, walks offstage and doesn't come back right away. I need not write more. The aptly-dubbed wordweaverlynn, who apparently went to the previous night's show (and had dinner in the same restaurant we did - such good taste!) has said it all most ably.

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