Saturday, 17 December 2011

No winter of discontent

William Shakespeare’s Richard III (circa 1591) is a play based on the rise to power of the tyrannical titular king. Richard is a limping hunchback and his deformity causes him to become a scheming vengeful man determined to overthrow his brothers Edward and Clarence to become king. In the first Act he describes his intent:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
(Richard III, 1. 1)

He succeeds in becoming a villain and will destroy anyone who stands in his way. He uses his supporters and discards them when they have no more value to him. This includes wooing the Lady Anne, after he has killed her husband and father-in-law. The body count rises as Richard picks of those in the line of succession, including children, and grows increasingly paranoid that others are plotting against him.  His opponents look to the exiled Earl of Richmond for support. The play concludes with a battle at Bosworth Field where Richard, offering his kingdom for a horse, duels with Richmond.

I had the great fortune of seeing Richard III in Sydney recently starring Kevin Spacey. Set in modern times, Richard is a tyrant not dissimilar to several world leaders who have been overturned by the people they have oppressed for so long – indeed, the program includes an article drawing parallels to Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, Robert Mugabe, Kim Jong-il, and Bashar al-Assad.

Kevin Spacey is terrific as Richard III. He engages the audience with his roaring, mocking, wooing and scheming. It is such a physically demanding performance and he gives it his all. He is on stage for most of the three-hour performance - so fans of the actor will feel well-rewarded. Spacey is well supported by the entire cast - with special praise to the actors playing Buckingham (Chuk Iwuji), Queen Elizabeth (Haydn Gwynne), Hastings (Jack Ellis), and Queen Margaret (Gemma Jones).

It is directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) for the Old Vic Theatre in London, where the play ran from June to September 2011 before its’ global tour. The minimalist set worked effectively, with seamless scene changes from bedroom to battlefield. However the set was tunnel shaped and those seated n the aisles near the front towards had impaired views of the whole stage. We were fortunate in our seats, close enough to see sweat on brows. I particularly liked the use effective use of drums with percussion to punctuate the action.

The night ended with a standing ovation. Richard III is a delicious role for any actor, and Spacey plays tyrants with such relish. It was a wonderful night out at the theatre and a great start to my southern summer of contentment.