Feature

Richard III

Kevin Spacey gives a bold portrayal of Richard III in Sam Mendes's production at The Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Brooklyn Academy of Music
Brooklyn, N.Y.
(718) 636-4100

***

’Tis the season to be “cynical about all things political,” and Shakespeare is here to help us survive it, said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. For all the mudslinging and conniving sure to occur between now and November’s presidential election, the Bard’s grisly 1591 drama reminds us that ugly power struggles are nothing new. Richard, the hunchbacked Duke of Gloucester, was certainly not squeamish about “buzz-sawing his way through a crowded field of contenders” to claim and keep the throne. Kevin Spacey’s bold portrayal takes the aspiring king one step further: His Richard “drips with tasty, venomous contempt for the process of becoming head of state.”

Even when facing his soon-to-be victims in the royal court, Spacey’s manic Machiavellian “can barely hide his devil-child’s glee at his own eeeevil,” said Scott Brown in New York. Yet the actor’s over-the-top performance more or less represents “everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong” with this supposedly modern-day interpretation. On the one hand, Richard’s political maneuvers culminate in a brilliant scene in which cameras capture him “candidly” praying in public and “reluctantly” accepting the crown. (As staged by Sam Mendes, it plays out with the carefully plotted fakery of a reality TV show.) Once he’s crowned, though, Spacey “goes into full bellow for almost a solid hour,” making the king’s subsequent paranoia-fueled downfall “the most tedious part of the show.”

Spacey’s Richard may be “overblown and cartoonish,” but I found him to be relentlessly entertaining, said Mark Kennedy in the Associated Press. Sporting aviators and a chestful of medals, he plays King Richard as “part Groucho Marx and part Muammar al-Qaddafi—a sarcastic, snarling tornado of resentment” whose lunacy is both funny and terrifying. The rest of the cast can’t help but be understated in comparison: Chuck Iwuji’s Duke of Buckingham is convincingly slick, and Annabel Scholey “is a lovely Lady Anne,” whom the king widows and then woos. But from the opening scene to the last, when he’s strung up by his feet like a side of beef, Spacey is “impossible to stop watching.”

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