Every once in a while, but not often, you have the opportunity and distinct pleasure of viewing a truly epic performance. Although there are a number of great shows out there which, when the curtains go down, you stand and applaud, there are only a few that receive such an ovation from the audience that it can only be described as a grand masterpiece. Despite having seen a number of very high quality shows since moving to London, I can say with a degree of confidence that on Saturday we witnessed the best of them yet.
Starring Kevin Spacey and directed by Sam Mendes, this class A duo teamed up once again for what will certainly become known as the legendary production of William Shakespeare’s Richard III.
It is no accident that the team responsible for American Beauty would pen such a dark depiction in this famous Machiavellian tale of murderous despotism and twisted manipulation, but it worked so well that it now seems it cannot be done any other way. The costumes were what could be best described as modern formal, but with a slightly medieval undercurrent, blending concepts of time and continuity, but remaining relevant enough to our own modern senses. The set was surprisingly basic, but effective in that it did not distract from the amazing performances of the actors who commanded the stage, serving its purpose for a multiple of settings between the two acts and doing so with the perfectly balanced combination of subtlety and authenticity.
Kevin Spacey may have achieved one of the highest points of his career and was on point as the central performance during the entire evening. Convincingly and unapologetically evil, his portrayal as the conniving and cruel royal was successful in engendering feelings of both humor and disgust simultaneously. Excellent performances from Chuk Iwuji as Buckingham and Hayden Gwynne as Queen Elizabeth rounded out the primary cast of characters, contributing to what will be an exceptional standard for generations of thespians wishing to play these roles. The overall direction was inventive, incorporating the use of modern technology embedded within the story to maximize themes of political duplicity, demonstrating the power that words and images have on the masses in cultivating an image and achieving popular support. Sam Mendes was risky, but truly brilliant in his execution.
Marking the third and final season of the Bridge Project, an enormously successful initiative which brings together British and American actors in classic theatre productions, Richard III is the bar for which future productions of Shakespeare should aspire to. Sitting through a performance of any of the Great Bard’s works is an exercise in patience and attention on the part of the audience. To mesmerize and captivate an audience and to make the 3 hour 15 minute running time pass by within the blink of an eye is the work of true dramatic genius, most deserving of the standing ovations it received.