Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Bridge Project :: Richard III

Debated long and hard whether to catch The Bridge Project's 'Richard III'. It's not a play that I particularly enjoy, not after plowing through 'Henry VI'. I got there with not much objectivity left. At least this play involves rather sinister facets of human behavior which can be fascinating. In the end, I caved. It was a ticket to a good seat! After all, this is the third and final production of The Bridge Project, I shouldn't miss it.

No issues with the modern dress production. Much easier to digest, for a historical play. To that end, it's designed to not only reflect the history of England, but slyly intending to draw links and reminders to modern dictators alive and deceased. I've always been confident of Sam Mendes' stage vision. (Read reviews in The GuardianBBC Arts and EntertainmentSFist, The Telegraph, The New York Times and L.A.Times.)  I'm rather fond of the abridged film version starring Ian McKellen. I was horrified by Sir Laurence Olivier's definitive 1944 stage edition. However, Richard III is an intense role, and because it's Kevin Spacey, even though he's a down-to-earth actor and has taken on artistic directorship of the temperamental Old Vic since 2003, I was doubtful that he could pull off such a role on stage. (I don't like 'American Beauty'.)

So, after the stylistic excerpt of televsion news that froze the frame on King Edward IV's face, Kevin Spacey, as Duke of Gloucester, began, "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York.". We continued on, "I am determined to prove a villain / And hate the idle pleasures of these days," Lots of emotions and energy required to oscillate between the contrasting and exhausting moods and psyche of the villain king. That leg brace is so cool. The production also chose to focus on the dramatic wit and elements of darkness in the play, and the actors' expressions and nuances gave it a contemporary twist. Good call. 

After 3 hours, I left the theatre with a backache and the niggly feeling that while Kevin Spacey is rather compelling, he's not the best Richard III of this decade as what some critics have proclaimed. He's very competent, carries the cape of the king well, and has got great comedic timing. You do get the feeling that there's an actor within the actor, and acting within an act- which is precisely what audiences are supposed to see in 'Richard III'. But I had expected more. I was looking out for that charisma which would cross the line from the expected good (of a play this hyped) to the phenomenal.

Still, I must quantify that I found this production enjoyable, and extremely well interpreted. You don't need to know Shakespeare to be drawn into this version of the play. Many issues could be viewed in today's context. But I didn't find this Richard III to be spectacular. Towards the end of the 3 hours, it felt a tad draggy. I very much prefer the women who're sublime in their roles. Hadyn Gwynne, woah. The production's currently slated to show in Brooklyn, New York in January 2012. Can't wait read those reviews.

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