Richard III

  • Theatre
  • West End
Critics' choice
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© Tristrum Kenton
Kevin Spacey

Could Sam Mendes have picked a better Richard III than Kevin Spacey? His smooth blend of menace and charisma may yet make his Richard one of the great dictators (the final show of Mendes’s Bridge Project has a ten-month lap of the world on which to perfect itself).

Spacey, even when cramped by a contorting leg iron and a dowager’s hump, dominates the ensemble. But he doesn’t always dominate this monster role. Shakespeare’s Richard is the Hamlet of homicide, charming the pants off the crowd with cynical jokes and asides. When he seduces Lady Anne over her father-in-law’s murdered body, Spacey makes the scene thrum with nasty sexuality (Annabel Scholey’s gothic Anne, shuddering between abhorrence and attraction, lends wonderfully plausible support).

Spacey makes Richard’s loneliness piteous, his scheming delicious and his rapport with the audience riveting – but Spacey sometimes overdoes it on the sarcasm, rolling his eyes and flapping his hands in a pantomime of villainy. It’s hard to sustain vicious energy for the whole murder marathon – some cuts from the two-hour first half, might have helped Spacey carry this show on his crooked shoulders.

It doesn’t help that Mendes’s production, with its ‘West Wing’-style costumes and symbolic executions, is so bloodless. But it’s a thrilling showcase for Richard’s barnstorming, muck-raking political operations. Underscored with thrilling drums and framed by a witch’s curse, it’s like a mash-up between ‘Newsnight’ and a nightmare.

In one inspired scene, we’re co-opted by Richard’s slick, grinning spin doctor Buckingham (Chuk Iwuji) into applauding the mass-broadcast TV interview in which Richard, cowled like a monk and oozing bogus piety, manoevres his way into a crowd-backed coup.

Sidelined into doped-up compliance or hysterics, the women give an unforgettable portrait of life in the grip of a tyrant. As the vengeful ‘prophetess’ who predicts their ruin, the excellent Gemma Jones stalks around collecting pain like a dire dreadlocked bag lady.

Shakespeare’s drama, the last in a quartet about the Wars of the Roses, can be confusing if you haven’t seen the previous three episodes. Mendes’s TV serial-style tactic of introducing each scene with its main character’s name is helpful but distancing – this is a productions which shifts, sometimes uncomfortably, between a feeling for radically dishonest, TV-ready political display and conventional, Olivier-style horror-struck theatrics.

I’d like to see Mendes and Spacey throw off the shackles of tradition more completely. But, even if this ‘Richard III’ falls short of reinvention, it is horribly relevant. Our ‘winter of discontent’ was made glorious summer by the Royal Wedding and the Arab Spring. This profoundly political production warns that royal pageantry and the ardour of crowds are twisted by the powerful to their own ends.

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Mike Danton

Erm... That image is from the Propeller production at Hampstead, not the Spacey show. The Propeller show is excellent by the way, I'm yet to compare it with the Old Vic.


This is certainly the most humorous interpretations I've ever seen but enjoyed it for that difference. The staging does an excellent job of guiding the audience through the lengthy introduction of characters and the use of 20thC technologies to illuminate those scenes hard to interpret in the modern era was, I thought, a stroke of genious on Mendes part. For a production designed to tour the world, I have no problem with the mix of accents, not least because almost all players were excellent (the only disappointment characterwise was 'Anne', who did not seem to 'inhabit' the part - in stark contrast to 'Elizabeth'). Whilst the humour and Spacey's play to that might have seemed like a Richard-lite, it's the percussion-based music that adds the necessary gravitas and dark thrill to the production. Well worth seeing.


Perfectly watchable yet curiously bland. Kevin Spacey's Richard III was evil-lite, the jocularity with which he was played didnt quite work for me, and I never really felt I'd worked out who/what he was - machiavelllian politico type with a nasty streak/very clever psychopath/plain nasty opportunist. Sorry to say I just thought Spacey lacked a certain gravitas and stage precence and dominance which is crucial for these big Shakespeare roles. It always felt like it was Kevin Spacey "doing" Richard III rather than just a performance of Richard III itself if that makes sense?! I found the fact half the cast had strong US accents quite off-putting - made it hard to just focus on the play itself when you constantly had to re-acclimatise your ears to a different accent. The guy playing Richard III's nemesis, Richmond, was particuarly jarring and I thought uber-hammy. Nevertheless, I was clearly in the minority given the standing ovation at the end. Celeb-fever or did I just completely miss something...who knows...


Saw this on Friday, 24 June. Absolutely brilliant - loved the modern staging and seeing Spacey tap into his inner villain. Be warned, very long first act!