Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kevin Spacey, Richard III, Esplanade Theatre, 19 Nov 2011

Having just watched Horrible Bosses, it's a bit strange to now review Kevin Spacey's dramatic Shakespearan performance of Richard III. That character wasn't all too far removed from Richard though -- equal parts dirtbag and hilarity.

The production on the whole was a magnificent thrill. I'd say credit for the evening goes to Sam Mendes' direction. The piece was brought effectively into modern times -- the set, the costumes, the visual effects, the music, all helping to show the timelessness of Shakespeare's work. Having never read Richard III, I was surprised by how palatable the evening was to my sadly plebeian literacy. That said, I would have loved the chance to have read and studied it beforehand. (The evening suggested to me that Shakespeare is better served in a semester-long college course than a one night play, where you don't have the time to pick up all the delicious complexities lying behind the written word. Guess I'll just have to watch it several times over.)

The cast was generally brilliant. Their (and I suppose Mendes' as well) interpretations were rich and thoughtful -- transporting you to that secondary layer of the character despite not fully understanding the language. Some though, like Lady Anne, sadly portrayed the character the way I did in a prepubescent production of Romeo and Juliet -- lots of shouting and grand proclamations, in an excessive dramaticism indicative of no interpretation of the character whatsoever. Sorry, Lady Anne.

And to Spacey, the promotional highlight -- his Richard was full-bodied and complex, so much so that by the end I had sympathized with his insanity, and lamented his misunderstood life. He separated himself so effectively from his murders that I too, found him temptingly innocent. I most appreciated each tick Spacey embodied Richard with, each double take, each open and close of his body as he gained and lost confidence in turn.

My biggest delight with the show was probably in the music and set. The drums (comprising the entirety of the music) effectively bookended each scene with curt, suspenseful transitions. Aided by projections of the scene titles and the illusory clouds floating by, the effect was truly cinematographic. The stage, a simple white room, was surprisingly efficient, serving as both a cold tower of imprisonment and a warm family home. My favorite was when the up-stage end of the stage opened for the second half of the play, revealing walls cracked and gray, much like the added depravity of Richard's inner world come the latter acts.

Anyway at the end of it my only gripe was perhaps with the over-modernization of the text. Jokes were gleaned from the script which were only funny by a modern context, which made me wonder how fidelic one really has to be to the text when showcasing Shakespeare. Something I'll dwell on before my next Shakespearean play, which this one has nicely whetted my appetite for.

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