This is the way the Bridge Project ends: with a star chewing the scenery, not an international ensemble. While past productions in this bi-national Atlantic-spanning series of productions have almost seemed allegories of American and British acting styles, here the big man of stage and screen carried all before him.
He really was great fun to watch. He twisted his body like a ruined athlete, making this a Richard whose martial prowess and physical threat seemed plenty convincing. When crowing to himself alone onstage or working his way through a crowded council table, Spacey was in complete control. The performance wasn’t dazzling, like McKellan’s Lear, or intensely moving, like Jacobi’s. Maybe it’s the impending Super Bowl this weekend — I’m trying to figure out a way to root against both the Giants & the Pats — but I kept thinking I was watching a superstar athlete, someone who makes it look so easy. He was faster, better, stronger than anyone else.
The play doesn’t give much room for co-stars, and with the possible exception of some brief flashes from resisting women — Annabel Scholey’s fiery Anne, Gemma Jones’s wandering Margaret, and later Haydn Gwynne’s Elizabeth (all Brits, btw) — nobody could really play with Richard on this stage. Chuk Iwuji’s Buckingham had a nice turn as a political crowd-pleaser / revival tent speaker when convincing the people to make Richard king, while Spacey’s face was projected onto a large screen on the back of the stage. The close-up of Richard’s expressive face recalled the greater physical intimacy of the camera, and the formal tension between Buckingham’s frantic play downstage and Richard’s subtle, measured acceptance on power on the screen provided a glimpse into what it must be like to work across different media. When Richard came back to the stage, Buckingham lost his ability to match him.
The early scenes, esp the first soliloquy and wooing of Lady Anne, were the highlights, and Howard Overshown’s rendition of Clarence’s dream of drowning had real grandeur and was certainly the best Spacey-less scene. But the production lagged just a bit, and the split-stage rendition of the Richmond / Richard parallel experiences of the night before the battle were a bit predictable. I loved watching Richard wrestle with himself to the very end — “Richard loves Richard, that is, I am I” — and that famous line about the horse allowed Spacey to amp up the volume one last time.
I’ve had some good nights with the Bridge Project since 2009, particularly in their uneven but fun Winter’s Tale with Simon Russell Beale and Rebecca Hall and Stephen Dillane’s brilliant Prospero. I’m not sure I always buy Sam Mendes’s direction, but I’m sorry to see this series of plays past. What’s coming to BAM next winter?