Like Shakespeare, Sam Mendes plays fast and loose with the elements of drama.  His 2010 production of As You Like It included a Depression-era tableau and torture scenes to point to the recession and our Mideast conflicts.  In 2010 also, he used modern Wiccan or reconstructionist ritual to delineate the magician, Prospero, in The Tempest (that knowledge echoes here in the role of the prophetess, Queen Margaret, marking Xs on the set, excellently played by Gemma Jones).  Mendes’s Richard III, running now through March 4 at BAM’s Harvey Theater (from the transatlantic company The Bridge Project) is a nod to global popular culture, from hand signals you’d find on Star Trek to an alternate version of the court of George V (Kevin Spacey, the star, with shades on hand, who is pictured at one point with whiskers, might even play the monarch–or lookalike Tsar Nicholas II–should the right scripts beam down.  Richard III is the product of the Hollywood mindset, the kind unknown before MTV.  It uses universalized characters inhabiting a nonspecific or evolving time and place, allowing Spacey, and the other actors, to play themselves, fantasized—they aren’t bound to character the way Olivier was in the ‘50s, portraying Richard with curls and a long nose (besides the obligatory hump); McKellen, as part of a fascist high command, in his ‘90s version, was gaunt, chilling, addicted to nicotine. 

The method, freed from context, allows Spacey to work hard without being fixed (in the last act he actually is hung upside down above the stage by his heels).  It also lets him become what Shakespeare probably always wanted—a big, hammy (Richard is actually “bigger” than Hamlet), crowd-pleasing villain.  Mendes knows this, playing most of Spacey’s scenes downstage center, altering symmetry by varying height (watch the use of crouching and kneeling in the production).  The play, which also employs video and supertitles, may seem more melodramatic than you remember, more bombastic than you recall, less dimensioned, and maybe more enjoyable–after all those English lectures, it really isn’t much of an intellectual exercise at all. You might even find yourself wondering if it will connect in some way to Mendes’s upcoming James Bond film Skyfall–for who is Richard III if not the ultimate Bond villain (down to enhanced medical technology)?

Spacey has called it, “A monstrous, epic, huge piece of work” and in an interview with Charlie Rose reminds us that the character of Richard III is in twenty-three out of twenty-six scenes. Using the depth of the Harvey Theater in formidable design, with seemingly endless lines of doors (the scenery is by Tom Piper) and sometime side lighting by Paul Pyant (the projections are by Jon Driscoll and the fashionable, eclectic costumes are by Catherine Zuber).  The muscular, strong, powerhouse acting, besides Spacey’s and Jones’s, includes work by Annabel Scholey, Hadyn Gwynne, Chuk Iwuji, Chandler Williams, among others.  Mendes keeps his Richard III paced, loud, and alive with drumming.  Shakespeare might be just fine with the fact that by basing Richard, in part, on the medieval character Vice, as he did, the play should be as Mendes has said, “about the timeless themes of desire for and abuse of power.  A parable.”  What we’ll want to reconsider, in time, is if Richard was ever meant to, or could, be more than a blockbuster or part of the Shakespeare franchise, even if, in this highly theatrical production, that is enough.   

© 2012 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

Press: Emily Meagher, bbbway

Richard III

Part of the 2012 Winter/Spring Season

Jan 10—Mar 4, 2012 (click on Schedule tab above for details)

A limited number of premium orchestra seats for any Thursday, Friday and Saturday performance in February are available through charity ticket auction to benefit BAM arts education. Bid now

Bank of America presents
The Bridge Project
Richard III
Produced by BAM, The Old Vic & Neal Street

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Mendes

“Mr. Spacey gives fierce and flashy physical life to every twist of a power-mad man’s corkscrew mind.” —The New York Times

Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey owns the stage as Shakespeare’s outrageous villain Richard III. At the climax of the Wars of the Roses, Richard watches his brother ascend the throne of England and confides in us—with all the profound bitterness of an outcast born with a hunchback and malformed leg—his intention to seize the crown. Navigating an imposing assemblage of some of Shakespeare’s greatest female characters, Richard—played brilliantly by the mercurial and mordantly funny Spacey—lusts for power, assuring his own bloody rise and fall.

Academy Award winner Sam Mendes directs the transatlantic cast in the final production of The Bridge Project, a three-year partnership uniting BAM, The Old Vic, and Neal Street.

BAM Harvey Theater
Run time: 3hrs 20 min with intermission
Season tickets start at $24 (Jan 10—29 only)
Full price tickets start at $30
Prices vary by performance dates and times
8 ticket limit per household

Co-commissioned by and produced in association with Athens and Epidaurus Festival, Centro Niemeyer Spain, Doha Film Institute, Hong Kong Arts Festival, The Istanbul Theatre Festival (IKSV) &The Istanbul Municipal Theatre, Kay and McLean Productions, Napoli Teatro Festival Italia, SHN-Carole Shorenstein-Hays & Robert Nederlander, and Singapore Repertory Theatre.

The complete acting company is as follows: Maureen Anderman, Stephen Lee Anderson, Jeremy Bobb, Nathan Darrow, Jack Ellis*, Haydn Gwynne*, Chuk Iwuji, Isaiah Johnson, Gemma Jones*, Andrew Long, Katherine Manners*, Howard W Overshown, Simon Lee Phillips*, Gary Powell*, Michael Rudko, Annabel Scholey*, Kevin Spacey, Gavin Stenhouse*, Hannah Stokely*, Chandler Williams

*Indicates British member of company

Jack Ellis, Haydn Gwynne, Gemma Jones, Katherine Manners, Simon Lee Phillips, Gary Powell, Annabel Scholey, Gavin Stenhouse, and Hannah Stokely are appearing with the permission of Actors' Equity Association. Maureen Anderman, Stephen Lee Anderson, Jeremy Bobb, Nathan Darrow, Chuk Iwuji, Isaiah Johnson, Andrew Long, Michael Rudko, Kevin Spacey, and Chandler Williams are appearing with the permission of UK Equity, in corporating Variety Artistes' Federation, pursuant to an exchange program between American Equity and UK Equity. The Producers gratefully acknowledge Actors' Equity Association for its assistance of this production.

Scenery by Tom Piper
Costumes by Catherine Zuber
Lighting by Paul Pyant

Projection by Jon Driscoll
Sound by Gareth Fry
Music by Mark Bennett

Musical Coordination and Direction by Curtis Moore
Fight Direction by Terry King
Artistic Associate Gaye Taylor Upchurch
Casting by Daniel Swee and Maggie Lunn

International Tour Producer Claire Béjanin

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