This was it – the last night of Richard II and Kevin’s last performance at the Old Vic until September 2006. The theatre was packed and there was a sense of anticipation. The cast did not disappoint, the performances were as fresh as they had been on the first night. Kevin’s voice was stronger than it had been in the last few weeks and he used all his skills and energy to convey the essence of Richard; a spoilt, petulant man, quick to anger when he didn’t get his own way, but also capable of humour and tenderness. The prison scene was astounding.
The contrast between Richard’s quiet humour regarding his present existence and the explosion of violence when he is attacked by Lord Exton was stunning. The chair thrown by Kevin hit the handbasin with such force that pieces of porcelain littered the stage. As Richard and Exton struggled they came perilously close to the edge to the stage, that they didn’t fall into the audience portrays the control and the work that went into the scene. All too soon the play came to an end and I feel very privileged to have seen this production, the entire cast deserves praise, as does Trevor Nunn, the director. And Kevin Spacey has proved to anyone who needed convincing, (not us!), that he can ‘do Shakespeare’. Hopefully he got as much pleasure from playing the part as I got from watching him. It was an experience I will never forget.
November 29, 2005
by Pam – London
I was at the last night performance of Richard II on Saturday evening, what a surprise I had when I found out I was in the front row – AWESOME. I was hoping that Kevin would trip (not to hurt himself) and land in my lap, but unfortunately he moved around the stage quite gracefully as a King would, and I never got the privilege so I had to watch him from about 4 feet instead !!!
I thought the whole cast did a splendid version of Richard II, very different, very original. Kevin was brilliant, cool, calm and totally in control, as usual, also I thought his English Shakesperian accent was very good.
Being so close this time, watching the play, I couldn’t help but notice that Kevin, from the last time I saw him in The Philadelphia Story, seems to be a lot slimmer but still as cute and sexy. Could this have something to do with his gruelling schedule this year? Perhaps a well earned rest over the Christmas period with the Christmas festivities, will put that extra bit of weight he had at the beginning of the year, back on. Slim or even slimmer, he is without a doubt ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS in every way.
Looking forward to seeing him again next in 2006.
November 27, 2005
I went to see Richard II last night, and I have to say, it knocked my socks off!!! Being a northern working-class girl, I have never experienced The Bard before, nor have I ever wanted to. However, having made the trek to London once more, to see my beloved Kevin, I am now completely entranced. This was not what I expected at all. In fact, the play was totally irrelevant to me, I just wanted to see the great man at work. So imagine my surprise when I discovered, at the tender age of 46, that I have been missing out on such wonderful theatre all of these years!! Thank you Kevin for enlightening me!
In terms of performances, I felt that all the actors were totally professional, but of-course the man himself was his usual magnetic self. A word on Ben Miles too…..he was truly wonderful. Charismatic and really very sexy (not quite as sexy as Mr. S. you understand!). I was fortunate enough to meet him after the performance, and got his autograph and had my photo taken with him. Of-course I got Kevin’s autograph too, which I will treasure for all time.
Once again, I am extremely grateful to Kevin for the profound affect that seeing this great work has had upon me. I will now try to catch up on lots and lots of reading!!!!!
November 6, 2005
by Sue Young
So I finally I got to see Richard II, what can I add to the existing reviews…
Well- it is wonderfully played by all, but Ben Miles and Kevin Spacey are astral. A mention too for Susan Tracy who is also excellent even though in a small part, oh how we laughed.
The set is simple, perfect, and even the scene changes have a small dramatic part.
Mr Spacey makes it all look so easy – you forget he even had to learn the part and the lines, it just flows so naturally.
Thank you to all. I will be back.
West Yorkshire, UK
October 30, 2005
Richard II has a special place in the Shakespeare canon for me. In the seventies I saw the much revered Pasco/Richardson production 22 times!! – (Excessive and obsessive I know). Older (but no wiser) I have seen subsequent productions, but none to equal that one. Oh boy – was I in for a treat this afternoon (29 October).
It works – the modern setting works! Reminiscent of Derek Jarman’s Edward II, Trevor Nunn has worked his directorial magic to produce a play for 2005. Without exception everyone was superb. Trevor is ace at bringing out the best in his team of actors. I felt I was seeing the play for the first time, such was its power. I do not know Ben Miles at all and am belatedly singing his praises. It was lovely to see old stalwarts I have known for many years including Peter Eyre, Julian Glover, Mark Tandy, Sid Livingstone, Sean Baker (minus hat – a private joke), Oliver Cotton and Susan Tracy.
The way the stage was used – just about every inch of it I should imagine – was a masterclass in itself. This is how Shakespeare is produced on our stage, and I envy anyone seeing the play for the first time.
And now (at last) to the central performance. I am so glad I cut my fingernails yesterday! I could feel my heart pounding in every scene. What stood out? – all of it. The scene on his return from Ireland, the deposition, the prison and death – sheer brilliance. My worry was that KS was going to have the stamina to repeat it in the evening. I was aware he was tired when his accent started to return unbidden in the latter stages, and he looked totally washed out at the end. Here’s hoping the audience in the evening got the same heady mixture of expertise and passion we had.
The audience – without whom actors are nothing – were so in tune with the whole proceedings – keening on every word and action – a real rollercoaster of a matinee.
Can I see it again? – Hmm – time and money allowing – maybe – if not, the memory of it will be up there along with everything else Trevor Nunn has produced and KS has been in (ok – I’ve only seen him in Philadelphia Story on stage).
PS – I was in love already – now it’s serious!!!!
October 29, 2005
I have seen several of the great Richards, including John Neville, Alan Howard, Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, but I can honestly say that Kevin’s performance equals the best of them. My husband and I were totally absorbed and the three hours flew by. The modern setting and use of video to haunt the action and to emphasize the gap between public and private is very effective and the supporting cast is excellent, especially Ben Miles’ Bolingbroke.
But Kevin’s Richard is riveting. It is an intriguing interpretation which is in tune with modern times in its analysis of power and its effect on those who have it. He is every inch a king and the switches in mood which are integral to the character kept us almost on the edge of our seats throughout. I don’t think I have ever seen the moment when he first realises power is leaving him done better. We had just been to see Downfall, the German film about Hitler, and the way Kevin’s Richard loses it in front of his supporters elicits the same kind of shock of embarrassment you feel in the film when Hitler rants and raves. His Richard is a much stronger character than he’s often played, not so much self-pitying as utterly incapable of conceiving a role for himself other than as king and that makes his breakdowns all the more moving. He clings almost pathetically to the crown in the abdication scene as if it defines him. In the final scene in prison he conveys a sense that he has finally achieved some sense of self-knowledge – it lacks the heart-rending pathos of other interpretations but it works.
As usual the critics have not been as generous as they should, although there have been some very good reviews. But the evening we went, the night before the opening, there were standing ovations. We thought National Anthems was superb, but Richard II really shows Kevin’s range. Sorry you can’t see it, America, but believe me we do appreciate him.
October 12, 2005
My second time to see this production and if anything it was better than the first – can it continue to improve? If KS continues to develop the character as he obviously doing, then the answer has to be yes. Tonight we saw a Richard who was warm, witty, pompous, vain, tender, arrogant, vicious, charming, self-pitying; sometimes in the space of seconds. One moment you wanted to strangle him because he was so awful, the next you wanted to hug him and tell him everything would be alright! The scene where Richard is forced to hand over his crown and kingship to Bolingbroke is heartbreaking – Richard now realises he has nothing, not even his name; he becomes physically smaller and weaker in front of your eyes. Yet, even in that scene Kevin finds humour – Richard asks for a mirror so that he can see how many wrinkles all the trauma has given him. He carefully examines his face – and finds none. This is an excellent performance; it makes you very excited to think of KS doing more Shakespeare in the future. He is definitely enjoying this challenge, he is growing in confidence and becoming an even better actor. It is thrilling to watch.
I know this site is primarily interested in Kevin, but it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the very fine performances of the other 24 cast members. They are all very individual, gifted actors and they have become a company. Tonight the audience gave them a standing ovation – it was truly deserved.
October 12, 2005
Link to a description of the Q&A Spacey fan Isis attended earlier in the day.
October 4, 2005
Saw him in Richard II in London. He was awesome!!! First time I really enjoyed Shakespeare.
October 3, 2005
by John Gill
My wife and I were at the excellent Saturday 24 September 2005 matinee production of Richard 2.
We managed to get Kevin Spacey’s autograph but while waiting I was very embarrased when I realized all the excellent cast were leaving for a break and no one myself included was asking for their autograph waiting in anticipation for Kevin.
We later met and had a chat in the street with Oliver Cotton and Ben Miles and explained our embarrasment. They were very gracious about it and were great to talk to. I hope Ben enjoyed his takeaway.
We have been to National Anthems and the Philadelphia Story with our daughter but this time my wife and I travelled alone from Torquay for her birthday. We look forward to returning before the production finishes. Best wishes to all the excellent cast.
(Link to photos coming)
John and Lorna Gill.
September 27, 2005
by Jane Walls
Last night – Saturday 25th – I went to see Richard II at the Old Vic. Fantastic!
I have to admit that Kevin was my primary motive for going to Shakespeare but the performance last night has lit a flame that I fully intend to fan. I haven’t paid much attention to The Bard since having to at school but what a difference it makes seeing it performed live. I was familiar with the story of Richard – the play questions monarchy, the traditions and history of England, and whether it was acceptable to have an absolute right to power simply because your father was King.
The play is however in a contemporary setting – modern and stark backdrops, modern clothing designed by Armani, and this I think helps make it more accessible to those who are newcomers to seeing Shakespeare performed live, including me.
Kevin does an impecable English accent throughout the play and being a couple of rows from the front he was quite mesmerising. I didn’t think that I would be able to forget that it was Kevin I was watching but the acting is superb and you are soon being carried by the story and the ensemble acting. The play lasts 3 hours and there are a number of long speeches and, in addition to Kevin, some great performances from the entire cast.
There were standing ovations at the end and Kevin and the cast looked very moved. We have such a tradition in England of knocking people and his time at the Old Vic so far has met with such a lot of criticism from the media – certainly not from the public who are really appreciative of what he is doing – that this was the best response we could give the cast. I think the official opening for Richard is in early October but going to see one of the previews was great – you get to see the play before the media decide whether they are going to support it or not and you can make up your own mind. I’m going to try and get tickets to see it during the closing week to see how it looks and if there were any changes made since the previews.
If you are not used to Shakespeare or the English accent and are going to see the play then it might help the get familiar with the story before you go – do a search on the internet and get the outline down as this will definitely help you keep up with the plot and the pace of the speeches.
Oh, and finally, I know that some people not a million miles away are keen on a certain person’s bald patch -sorry he wore a couple of wigs!
September 25, 2005
First of all, a piece of friendly advice: if you haven’t already got a ticket to Richard II – GET ONE NOW!!! I’ve just got home & I’m still trying to absorb what I saw on the Old Vic stage tonight. If there is anyone on the planet who doesn’t think Kevin Spacey is one of the finest actors that ever lived,well, they should be dragged to the Old Vic immediately! His is one of the finest performances of a Shakespearean role I have ever seen. You believe he is a king right from the moment he walks on stage; as he is dressed in the robes & the crown there is no doubt that this man also believes he is a king & has a divine right to be a king. His pride & arrogance are total, which makes his fall even more powerful. His astonishment & grief at losing his throne & his crown to Bolingbroke is heartbreaking. Naturally, being KS he finds the humour in the part also – after some particularly OTT grovelling from one of his subjects King Richard’s reply was merely ‘Hmmm’, with a sidelong glance at the audience. In other words ‘I didn’t believe a word of that’! Kevin has obviously worked extremely hard for this role – physically he looks great, with huge energy, (great hairpiece too!), but the mental stamina this role requires is enormous. When he came on at the end to take his bow he looked exhausted – two performances of almost three hours each in one day is a lot! The whole production is excellent – great sets, very interesting use of video screens, (slightly distracting initially), a large cast of superb actors. I could rave about it all night, instead I’ll just say; it’s a great play, go see it if you can; I’m certainly going back.
September 24, 2005
Its great a must see for anyone and it even more better when your a Spacey fan. Great set loved the uses of the big tv screens and lighting well acted by all.I will have to go bact to see the next play with Kevin in and to anyone who is thinking of going …………………….GO!!!!!!!!!!…………………………
November 1, 2005
Richard II – October 22
When I last saw the play – eleven days ago – I wondered if it, and Kevin, could be any better. Tonight I had my answer – this play and its’ actors are a masterclass for anyone who wants to be a stage actor. A husky-voiced Kevin demonstrated yet again how great his powers are growing in this part. At his coronation Richard gazes upon his subjects – the audience in this case – with complete authority and power. I was sitting in the second row and I actually felt quite intimidated as his eyes swept over me! In the scene where Richard is criticised by John of Gaunt, Kevin’s body reverbates with anger, while his face is expressionless. When he finally explodes with fury and launches himself at Gaunt people around me flinched in shock. In contrast, the scene where Northumberland comes to Richard to tell him that Bolingbroke awaits him is hilarious. Northumberland stands before the king and Richard waits, and waits again. He says nothing, looks at Northumberland, at the audience, back to Northumberland, then to his men, then to Northumberland. The audience knows immediately what he is waiting for – Northumberland should bow before his king. When it doesn’t happen Richard’s sarcasm is limitless, but even before he speaks his facial expressions tell us all we need to know. This king, who rules because God gave him the power, cannot believe that one of his subjects has the temerity to insult, defy and challenge him. Richard’s final speech, in prison, is increasingly moving. He looks back at his life and decides that he is a better person now, although when he realises how poor he now is, he thinks he’d quite like to be king again! His death scene is astounding, it’s very physical and the other actors have to be very quick to catch Richard as he falls backwards on to a table. At the moment of death Richard’s eyes roll back in their sockets, his legs go limp and one bloodstained hand falls to the side – Kevin Spacey ‘dies’ better than any actor I’ve seen. As Kevin continues to improve, he is bringing the entire cast along with him.
October 22, 2005
King Richard II
Hi all, I saw Richard II at the old vic theatre tonight, it was Amazing! Kevin did such a good job as the king well in the first act. I actually thought Ben Miles was brilliant as well as him. they both did it for me tonight ,22nd october 2005!
It was sooo emotional, he was losing power all the way through the play, as it went on. It was as if he was trying to prove how good he was and his own views, but all the public and the other guys in ther suites were jus ignorin him. Bolingbroke slowly took over the show and was desperate to be king. Richard and his queen had a weird relationship, in the second act it was sooo moving. When he found out he was no longer king on his thrown, his queen was feeling it aswell. So to make things easier for both of them, he sent her to france. And he said kiss me and our lips will never meet again, i was crying at this point. She was sent away, when in the final act he was sent to a prison with a candle, a bed and himself. Just talking about himself and the past. He was literally crying through the whole show, thats why he made me cry. Finally he got stabbed by a man who was trying to restrain him from going mad. they was blood on his hands and he just died on the table. I cryed when it was the funeral of the king as bolingbroke rests his crown on the coffin. At the end i came out, my mum and dad were sittin there. They just got up quick and said quick go to the stage door quick! So we ran they,First the guy who played the duke came out to talk to everyone. Then Ben Miles came out he was really nice, I said that he was really good, He just said ‘aww cheers’ and carried on signin! Then two minutes later Kevin Spacey ran down the stairs, and started signin autographs. When it got to me, I gave him my book and told him to sign on him, lol! He was cute, but looked nackered! His personallity was really sweet, but very gentle man. When he was signin my book, I said he was Really good, He just looked in my eyes and said ‘Aww Thank you! and smiled. I noticed he was tryin to sign me and my friends books cause we’re not that pushy, lol! Thanks for lettin me know where we get his autograph, today has been the best day of my life!
x x x
October 22, 2005
by anonymous # 76
I saw the matinee performance of Richard II on 15th October, and the Wallace and Gromit film the following day, and I have concluded that Kevin Spacey has plasticine prostheses where his limbs should be.
I didn’t think that there was a duff performance in the play, but my favourites were Julian Glover’s steely John of Gaunt and Peter Eyre’s properly avuncular but shrewd Duke of York. Julian Glover doesn’t appear to hang around for the curtain call; I pictured him leaving the theatre in mac and cloth cap, paper carrier bag in hand, in the style of Eric Morecambe. Given the production’s enthusiasm for the use of video screens (which worked for me), I thought it was a shame that he didn’t at least take a pre-recorded bow.
On the page Richard seemed to demand a good slap and to be told to cheer up and show a bit of backbone. I wouldn’t have dared do that to the haughty, self-regarding bendy-limbed Richard in the distracting hairpiece that I saw on the stage, especially given his tendency to explode into drama-queeny tantrums at the slightest provocation. (Oh, alright! Perhaps being usurped is more than a slight provocation). I was grateful that his painful descent into greater self-knowledge and the relinquishment of campness enabled him to choose a shorter and spikier hairstyle for his incarceration: it did suit him much better. I still didn’t warm to sympathy; you couldn’t help pitying him. I think that I would have hung back from giving him the obviously much-needed hug that he received from his groom – but no one would have begrudged him it.
And, of course, Kevin’s Richard met his tatty little death splendidly, reaching up to heaven in anticipation of regaining his lost majesty, whilst his plasticine legs dangled from over the side of the trolley used to bring him his food.
October 19, 2005
I made a quick dash to London last week to see Richard II. It’s the single most powerful and emotional performance I’ve seen from Kevin. Here I’m going to share my experience with you. Please be aware that there’re spoilers contained in this review. And this review is very long so please bear with me.
Honestly, I was not a Shakespeare fan and before I went to see this play, I actually studied the script and read some essays on Richard II, so that I could at least understand the story. The script was difficult to read. However, once the play started, I just forgot about all the scholarly readings I did and was completely taken by what’s happening on the stage. The story was told in a very natural manner, at a swift pace. Dialogues were spoken beautifully but the actors’ main intention was to tell a story. There is absolutely no stiffness in this production.
The play opens with Richard’s coronation. With classic music played at full blast and a full chorus in the background, the ceremony was indeed very grand, very royal. Kevin looked every bit a King who believes in his own authority and status given by birthright.
Act I was done in the medieval costumes. Kevin moved gracefully in his purple robe. He himself put the crown on his head and asked for a mirror to look at. There’s a faint but noticeable smile there, with an enormous amount of confidence. A typical Spacey look! During Act I, Richard was happy to play an arrogant, cruel and heartless king. When someone tried to give him some advice, he barked, “Am I not King?”
Act II everyone was in a modern suit. When Richard walked out with his Queen in an elegant Armani suit, he looked like the biggest movie star that ever lived. There were chuckles from the audience and there was a knowing nod from Kevin to the audience. The big screen with video clips was there to show exterior scenes or to provide a context of what’s about to happen on stage. Also, Richard’s coronation was shown on the video screen, in black and white, very historic looking.
At first I didn’t understand why most of the play had to be done in a modern setting. Now I figured there’re at least two reasons. First, Richard’s fall is really a timeless story to tell, could fit in with almost any political generation. Second, Trevor Nunn really ripped off all the accessories, including period costumes and sets, and zoom in on the character’s emotional state. Kevin’s suits were nice but not distracting. It’s initially eye opening to see him in a suit. But later we just didn’t pay attention to what he was wearing any more. We were 100% focused to see him lay down layers and layers of emotion.
At the end of the play, he was in a shirt and pants all in earthy tone. You see nothing else but an emotionally raw Kevin. His hair changed a few times during the play. When he was King Richard II, it was nice and smooth. When he was in the courtroom, he looked ghastly and gray. It’s a young man’s gray out of grief. It’s heartbreaking to see him like that. At the end when he was in a prison cell, he had very short hair, very very gorgeous looking too.
Later on, he was told that his cousin Bolingbroke had seized his military power and he would have to give up his kingship. His rage was astonishing. His face turned so red and he barked and walked up and down the stage like a wounded lion. But he was left with no choice but to step down the throne. He ordered his handful of followers not to fight anymore and not to contradict the new King, King Henry IV. He could barely maintain his composure while giving his final order as a King. As soon as the messenger was gone, he broke down emotionally and physically.
After the intermission, the story got a lot darker. Richard was forced to hand out his throne in court. When he walked into the courtroom, he naturally walked towards his throne but was stopped. The guards pointed him a wooden chair in the middle of the room. He sat there, surrounded by his old enemies and old followers, like a frightened child. At first, he pretended to be cool and humorous. But under the wooden chair, his fingers were trembling. He was told to hand out the crown to Bolingbroke, the future King Henry IV. But he just couldn’t let go of the crown. Suddenly, he turned and ran like a mad man towards the throne, with his crown clutched in his hands. People were shocked and wanted to stop him at first but they didn’t. His dash was so sudden, so desperate and so heartbreaking. Even the guards didn’t have the heart to stop him or hurt him.
Richard sat on the throne for the last time. He was in a suit, but he acted as if he was in a royal robe. Sitting on the throne, he handed out his crown to Bolingbroke. His face showed no emotion, as if all feelings had been sucked out of him. Just when you, and Richard, thought all humiliations were over, more was on the way.
In order to convince the people that Richard was a bad king, one of his former followers, Lord Northumberland, asked him to read a list of his own sins. This hit him to the core. Richard was shocked, angry, frightened and tearful. He refused to do so. But Northumberland, played by Oliver Cotton, was ruthless. Richard broke down four times in this scene. Every time he sort of caught up his breath, Northumberland would push him further and deeper, and Richard would fall apart all over again. It was very painful to watch this scene. I couldn’t breath. By then, Richard’s former followers had turned to serve Bolingbroke, the new King. Finally, Richard had absolutely no way to escape, he turned to his old courtiers to seek help and sympathy. They all looked away, avoiding eye contact with him. Only one of them was there, only to offer teary eyes. At this moment, Richard asked for a mirror again. After so much suffering, he was stunned that he didn’t see any “deeper wrinkles” on his face. He got down on his knees, cried out that why even God couldn’t see his pain and grief. Tears streamed down his face like a running river. At the end of this act, the new King was holding the crown, beaming in the center stage. Richard walked out silently in the back, like a dead man.
Richard was not intimate with his queen in the play. On his way to Tower of London, his queen was waiting to see him. Richard bid his farewell to her more like a loving brother. She offered a farewell kiss. But half way through Richard had to break away as he was crying so hard. She pulled him back and kissed him again with great maternal love.
In the prison scene, the stage was very dark. Kevin walked onto the stage with a little candle in his hand. He sat on the floor, with no shoes, just a pair of old socks, next to the candle, gave a long but beautiful monologue about life, time, the world, and a man’s identify. As he is in a very plain outfit, for a while I couldn’t tell whether I was watching King Richard II, or Kevin Spacey, or a man who just began to understand life in his final hours.
King Henry IV sent assassins to Richard’s prison cell. They had a violent fight and Richard managed to kill one of them. But another guy stabbed him from behind. He was in shock, anger, fear and pain all together. As his body was sinking, his hand, full of blood, reached to the sky and he said his famous line “Mount, mount, my soul! Thy seat is up on high…” You could almost see the spirit leaving his body and flying up and high. As he was dying, everyone in the room got down on their knees. The visual effect was quite stunning. The music, throughout the play, was very poetic and moving too. At the end, you just want to cry for this man, even though he was once a bad king.
On the other hand, the death scene was quite dangerous to do. Once he was stabbed in the back, Richard had to walk backwards as he continued his lines. Then he collapsed by a table. Kevin had to land on a very precise position by the table so that once he finished his lines, he would fall on top of that table and die. I sat very close to the stage and could see it’s a very difficult and dangerous scene to do. Kevin was very emotional and had big movements in this scene. One night, he landed in a very awkward position by the table. Thankfully a prison guard was there to hold him as he continued his dialogue. I thought he was going to hurt himself in that position. I still don’t think it’s necessary to do everything backwards here. Too dangerous!
Kevin really must record this production. He owes this not only to his audience, but also to history itself as it is such a significant production, with tremendous emotion and timeless beauty. It’s the single most powerful and emotional performance I have seen from Kevin. He took us on an incredible journey, to walk with him as a heartless king, a frantic loser, a frightened child, and a man who was reborn only to be killed.
It’s remarkable of Kevin that in this tragic story, he still managed to squeeze in some comic moments. One of them was right after the traumatic courtroom scene. He still had tears on his face but he just decided to throw a line in a comic way. We were surprised at first but laughed while the heart was still aching for him. Am I making any sense here?
On a lighter note, a funniest thing happened in a tragic scene. It’s when Richard found out he had lost his men and kingdom, he gave a long, dark monologue with lots of tears. And one of his followers, played by a very young and handsome actor, was supposed to run to him to offer a shoulder to cry on. One night, after Kevin finished his line, the young actor, who was standing on the other side of the stage, turned around and had the biggest sneeze I’ve ever seen on stage, before he ran to Kevin. This was such a surprise that even the actors on stage couldn’t help laughing, with their back towards the audience. People in the back rows probably couldn’t tell, but I definitely saw it. I had to try so hard not to laugh out loud. Kevin was the only one on stage who didn’t laugh. I thought it was so funny because obviously that young actor had held that sneeze for a very long time. Poor guy!
The most remarkable thing about this production is that, the story is told in a very natural and straight forward manner. There isn’t any stiffness in the story telling. You may not, I certainly didn’t, catch every word they said, but the actors delivered their emotions so clearly that even if the play was done in Russian, you would understand the story.
During the curtain call, all actors received enthusiastic response. While Kevin came out at last, there’re stand ovations on both nights I was there. This is usual at the Old Vic. The curtain calls were always cordial but subtle in there, not like NY. Kevin really appreciated the response and made warm and welcoming gestures to us. Everyone was in their moment that night. Kevin made 4 curtain calls on Saturday night. And then he raced with other actors while ran back to the backstage, like an excited boy after a good game.
There’re other brilliant actors in this production. Ben Miles plays Bolingbroke, who went on to become King Henry IV. Ben Miles is very young, well built, and speaks crispy classic English, with bouncing rhythm. He moves with a great deal of grace and confidence on stage, elegant but aggressive. He didn’t seem to be intimated by Kevin Spacey’s Richard. His Henry IV is very refreshing and impressive. Oliver Cotton plays Northumberland, the ultimate traitor from Richard’s court. He was so ruthless that the more Richard crumbled down, the more forcible he became. The scene in the courtroom was like an emotional hunt for him. He chased the former king until there was absolutely no room to turn. With his teary eyes, Richard said he saw a traitor in front of him. Oliver Cotton also played Tracey Lord’s father in The Philadelphia Story. It’s really very strong cast with actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theater. Trevor Nunn is no doubt a master who put all this together so brilliantly, and seemingly effortlessly.
(Link to Fan’s stage door pictures coming).
October 16, 2005
by Cynthia, Manchester, England
I went to see Richard II on Oct 29th and had a wonderful time.
Before the play starts we see a remarkable and significant image of a glass case containing a royal crown, orb and sceptre and the very fact that it appears as an exhibit in a case suggests that it is set appear from the ordinary world as Richard himself is in a way. It also suggests the way that Richard, a different and more sensitive character than those around him, is protected like a delicate plant in the glass case of the ceremonial of kingship until rebellion shatters his hot-house. Trevor Nunn’s decision to put this production in the world of twenty-first century media politics was an absolute stroke of genius. In one move he is able to make complicated dynastic quarrelling comprehensible for the modern viewer. At the side of the stage two huge video screens show the actions of the play as they might have been reported to the people watching TV. At all key moments in the play the press are there to report with cameras. John of Gaunt’s evocative speech about the glories of England is repeated again and again as indeed it would have been by a media hungry for patriotic tub thumping. At the same time the video footage is slow paced and often accompanied by music for maximum emotional effect and this seems to fit in with the regal ceremonial atmosphere of the play. Significantly, what we see on the screens becomes confused so that we can’t really understand what is going on – here are lines of expensive cars containing ministers, here is a riot, here is the king addressing the camera. And is this not just the way the news often appears to us today? How often are we told the full truth? The most we get is edited highlights ! The film footage and other aspects of the play suggest different periods of British history – the riots may be from the sixties, the costume of the queen and her ladies are from the 1940’s or 50’s implying skilfully for a modern audience that great panorama of British life which the play in more conventional treatments shows in its powerful families and the movement of armies.
As the audience of the play of course we see the subtle manoeuvring that those who simply watched the news would not. A dark panelled board with a door in it is set up on stage to represent all the dark corridors and little rooms out of the public eye where deals are struck and plots are hatched. These are the corridors of power for a modern audience but they perfectly suit the plotting of the actual play. This dark little world is set against the apparent frankness of the huge video screens which are of course only telling half truths.
And so to Kevin. Well – what can I say except that I was totally bowled over for all sorts of subtle reasons and this is coming from a theatre addict who has seen more productions, avant garde and conventional, of Shakespeare than she’s had hot dinners! I’ll try to put just a bit of my feelings into words. I was puzzled at first by his choice of Richard II but I know he likes a challenge and also having seen the play I wondered if there was a certain thoughtful solitariness about Richard which matched aspects of Kevin’s own personality.
He enters slowly in court costume with knee breaches and stockings ( great to be able to have a really good look at the legs, Kevin – very nice!) and is dressed in the royal ceremonial garments before parading round the area with the attendant lords. Here Kevin is the icy monarch dishing out commands with aplomb, his life controlled by the sceptre, orb and crown which he holds. Then we suddenly see a different scene where he is at a wild party with his favourites. This shows the difference between the private and the public man but also the extremes of his unbalanced personality. His undeveloped character, subservient for too long to the control of powerful old men, hangs on to ceremonial to protect him from the world but his real personality will break out in rages, wild parties or irrational decisions. From there on Kevin subtly and powerfully conveys every turn of Richard’s descent from kingship to a prison cell. He doesn’t act Richard – he IS Richard! As has been mentioned too much overbearing control by others and too high expectations (he was constantly compared to his dead father the much idolised Black Prince) has created a personality that lacks confidence, is prone to rages and petulance, and lurches between extremes. He shows cold arrogance in snatching the dead Gaunt’s possessions and a really terrifying fury when told by messengers of disasters all around, yet as quickly turns to console gently his weeping cousin Aumerle. Here we seem to get a glimpse of the fine person Richard could have been. As he comes in stripped of authority it is poignant to see him turn to the throne as if to sit on it as in his days of power, then he is urged to sit in an ordinary seat. The whole deposition scene was electric. Richard has to walk round the stage with his captors like a ghastly imitation of his walks between the rows of lords in his days of power. I felt the scene in the prison cell was perhaps the most moving of all. Kevin manages to convey that he is both freer and under greater threat than he has been before. His clothes are simple and modern – light shirt and trousers (very attractive, Kevin – I had to keep my mind on the fact that you were Richard II!) and I wondered if the light colours as opposed to the dark clothes he had worn before showed he was reaching some spiritual understanding. He moves freely in his clothes with no ceremonial, even jumping up to try to look out of the window. He is also free to soliloquize with a little candle burning as if he would try to reach some spiritual truth and there is the strange feeling that if he been able to stay there longer he would have worked out profound ideas. And would we not all wish for this freedom from a ruthless and disturbed world to sort out our own way in it? At this point Kevin’s beautiful voice comes into its own in the delivery of the soliloquy. I thought then what a quick learner he is. I understand he has not done much Shakespeare before and speaking the language so that it can be understood clearly is very difficult. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s style of delivering the lines slowly and directly to the audience was evident (Trevor Nunn’s training), but here and throughout the play the lines came over with a wonderful moving clarity. As often in the play there is an abrupt change of mood that seems to echo Richard’s own extremes of emotion as the murderers appear in army camouflage outfits. We are back in a disturbed modern world – are they terrorists or army men or are they freedom fighters? Is this a government prison cell, the hide-out of hostage takers, or even the cell of a public prison? The violence of Richard’s death matches the violence of the world he lives in – movingly he fights the killers off with a focused energy he has not shown before. As he dies he raises his arm and says his soul is rising up and it seemed I could almost see the soul floating up. This was very strange. A terrible image that stays in my mind is when the murderers show the body to Bolingbroke. It is in a plastic bag in a dust bin and the image hits us in the stomach with the knowledge of how far Richard has fallen and of the ruthlessness of the world. I must mention Ben Miles’ wonderful acting as Bolingbroke. He conveyed excellently both his determination and practical skills while at the same time his fears at removing an anointed king. I’ll never forget the scene where he speaks almost in awe of Richard appearing like the sun just as Richard does indeed appear with the sunlight streaming behind him. Our emotions ebb and flow between Richard and Bolingbroke until the tension becomes almost unbearable.
All the cast acted magnificently – it was great ensemble playing and Trevor Nunn gave us an unforgettable disturbed world familiar to us all – our own world and Richard’s world where everyone has to try to find a space to find themselves.
I went to the stage door to get Kevin’s autograph afterwards. He was a long time coming down . There had been three curtain calls and a few minutes of standing ovation from most of the audience which appeared to overwhelm Kevin a little. He looked very tired. I think he may have been exhausted by the part and moved by the ovation and was perhaps taking some time to compose himself before he came down. He may have still been mentally partly in the role of Richard. He was in a white cap and jeans and signed an autograph for each person carefully but wasn’t talking very much. I said “Well done with the English accent!” and he smiled slightly and murmured “Thank you”. He said “Thank you” again when he’d signed. I asked if he’d put “To Cynthia” on the programme and began to spell my name out because a lot of people spell it wrong or confuse it with Celia or Sylvia. But he had written it straight off correctly almost before I started to spell! I said “Thank you so much – it was wonderful”. I stood at the side to watch other people get their autographs as I just couldn’t walk away. In fact we were all standing there “drinking him in” as it were. A lady in a wheelchair wanted an autograph and you could see how sympathetic he was towards her. He looked very slim and attractive. It was dark and the stage door light showed the scar on his cheek and the wrinkles (or whatever they are!). You could feel the charisma. Everyone was quiet – I think we were all shattered by the play , us watching it and him acting in it! He looked oddly lonely somehow – probably the result of being still partly Richard. I started to think he looked as if he could do with a great big hug then decided I had better go before I had any more bizarre ideas. I was smiling all the way home to Manchester .
Do come and see this remarkable production if you can – it ends on Nov. 26th.