Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

Electrifying Spacey

Was it curvature of the spine? Was it a club foot? Was it just an epic dose of facial acne? We don’t know exactly where, how or in what degree Richard III’s deformities manifested themselves.

Was it curvature of the spine? Was it a club foot? Was it just an epic dose of facial acne? We don’t know exactly where, how or in what degree Richard III’s deformities manifested themselves.

Was it curvature of the spine? Was it a club foot? Was it just an epic dose of facial acne? We don’t know exactly where, how or in what degree Richard III’s deformities manifested themselves. Nor did Shakespeare. So he just went with a hunch. In Sam Mendes’s modern-dress production, Kevin Spacey offers us Richard as a double paralympian. He has a mini-excrescence, like a junior dinosaur egg, obtruding meekly from the back of his crisply laundered white shirt. He also has a fabulously twisted and withered left leg, that is emphasised by a line of stylish black-leather buckles worn, as fashion apparently dictated, over his trousers. I make much of these peculiarities because the production does so, too.

There’s a sense of breathlessness in this show, an overhastiness to move from one postmodern experiment to the next. There are video feeds, doorways in odd perspectives, thunderous drums to accompany the battle scenes. When Richard first appears he wears a paper crown and blows a party hooter. War erupts and the costumes have to acquire a more soldierly air. So Richard dons a Michael Jackson tunic with tasselled gold epaulettes that wiggle in agreement, like the ears of a devoted spaniel, whenever he speaks.

Spacey’s Richard is thoroughly modern, thoroughly original, shamelessly American. He’s camp, snide, mercurial, conversational. A next-door-neighbour sort of usurper. He gets a lot of laughs, too. It’s quite a serious risk to approach such a celebrated play in this inventive, knockabout, almost improvised manner. It might easily have collapsed beneath the weight of its impish cleverness.

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