Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hoarse for a Horse in a Barn of a House: Richard III, Kevin Spacey and the Lyric Theatre, Sydney. December 2011.

The beady green eye of Kevin Spacey on the programme lying beside the computer keeps goading me not to forget this production, Like Shakespeare’s Richard of Gloucester that eye insists on being noticed.

The show of course has been and gone. It did not quite soar but there was a deal of satisfaction in seeing such a full version played with thought and gusto.

The attraction was seeing how the star of American Beauty could deal with a stage performance. He has chosen to put his energies into London’s Old Vic in recent years and he would not be the only actor in the world working successfully in both theatre and film. Director Sam Mendes likewise operates in both worlds. Well, why not? It might be said that film needs the stage to keep certain skills robust. Or that film provides the income to do what you want in the theatre.

(Look up the career of Shakespearean Charlton Heston and see why he did clunkers like Earthquake. Then savour his Player King in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet)

Spacey certainly gave us a Richard of evil presence and charm but his performance was not free of vocal problems, of which more later.

The set with its moving walls, projections of characters’ names and surrounding row of back lit opening and closing doors was a player on its own. The play’s opening word ‘NOW’ dominated the upstage as the audience came in. Immediacy, action, want it now, first word in the play, no thought of future consequences – Richard is full of all of this and Spacey’s Richard, hobbled by an elaborate caliper, clearly enjoyed showing us an unprincipled rise to power.

Excellent support from a ghostly bag lady of a Queen Margaret (Gemma Jones) haunting her old enemies with truthful observations on their characters and actions and marking each door with a cross as another one exits, doomed by Richard.

The wooing of Lady Anne (Annabel Scholey) fell a little short of the necessary tension but the later joining of Anne with Queen Margaret, Queen Elizabeth (Haydn Gwynne) and the Duchess of York (Maureen Anderman) for the great operatic grieving and cursing sequences was intense and hypnotic.

The show benefitted greatly from a Buckingham of cheerful personality in Chuk Iwuji, delighting in Richard’s machinations until the moment he is asked to kill the two little princes in the Tower, and from a lovely guilt obsessed Clarence in Chandler Williams.

And behind it all was the insistent and disturbing aural landscape provided by composer Mark Bennett.

Spacey’s voice in the vast barn of the Lyric did not always have the stamina it needed for a Richard that came in well over the 3 and a half hour mark. He was momentarily hoarse early on and definitely hoarse toward the end, having, I think, given the ghost nightmares before Bosworth rather more than his all. He certainly knows his way around a stage but the Lyric is a monster and you need staying power for Shakespeare and a capacity to always have something in reserve. (Wonder how it would have gone in the much more Shakespeare friendly Canberra Playhouse?)

However, the absorbing nature of a production that tackled pretty well the full text made being there very worthwhile. Even the Scrivener (Isaiah Johnson) who is a (usually cut) spit and a cough in Act III Scene vi was allowed to appear, the clear voice of an honest citizen seeing through the plotting.

The Lyric itself seemed to be having difficulties with a show that was not a big musical. The ushers at the Sunday matinee were giving out finishing times somewhat short of what actually occurred and the people next to me bolted moments before Bosworth, clearly needing to be on the way to somewhere else. The woman next to me dashed for a plane at the end. Why the two in front of us had gone by interval was any one’s guess (I would guess the show was not American Beauty) but the many empty seats upstairs were in need of a thorough papering with people who wanted to see Shakespeare. (Or a well promoted student rush)

Perhaps such a barn needed a barnstormer.

Alanna Maclean