Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kevin Spacey as Richard III

Richard III is my favourite of Shakespeare's history plays primarily because Dicky is one of the best villains of all time. He's deformed, has a chip on his shoulder (and  hump), conniving and manipulative and is able to woo the woman whose husband and father he had murdered in a matter of minutes. Needless to say Dicky is the guy you love to hate. And Kevin Spacey in this simple, modern and beautiful production helmed by Sam Mendes brings a twisted and captivating performance as the murderous villain.

Spacey completely owns the stage. He's assured, clear and captivating. Richard grew up in a corrupt and violent world where his father and siblings were killed whilst chasing the thrown. It's know surprise that this 'valiant crooked-back prodigy' turns to manipulation and ruthlessness to get the crown, even back-stabbing his brother.

Equally captivating and chilling is Gemma Jones as Queen Margaret who curses Richard and his posse and haunts the stage as her miserable grief and cold-hearted grasp on the Plantagenet family grips tighter as her curses come true. She howls and groans and silently marks her territory with an "X" as each victims meets their end.

And then, there's the second half - after Richard is crowned - which is filled with war and battle cries. We lose the intimacy of Richard's soliloquies as he's now yelling and battling it out like his father before him. It's long and boring and not nearly as sophisticated. We had such a build up with a psychological thriller and then is turned into a generic action genre. But here I blame Shakespeare, not Mendes nor Spacey - they did what they could in modernizing this classic. It's moments like this where I think our infatuation with the Bard is blinding. What's clear, however, is that this story of villainy is still relevant.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Woman Killed With Kindness

Re-staging a classic play is a perfectly viable option. Cutting it, adapting it, throwing it around, trying on new eras, fleshing out relevant themes, finding continuity between then and now - are all things to consider when bringing an old drama to a contemporary stage. That is, after all, what art is about - finding, exploring, pursuing connection. But, sometimes a bold vision falls flat. And unfortunately Katie Mitchell's re-envisioning of Thomas Heywood's 1603 domestic drama A Woman Killed With Kindness fails to achieve any continuity. The tale of two women trapped in a male dominated world certainly still has relevancy, especially in Mitchell's 1919 suffragette setting.

The first is Anne Frankfort who has recently married John and is the virginal and virtuous woman - the perfect wife. John invites his best mate, Wendoll, to live in the house and whilst John is out on business Wendoll helps himself to his wife and Anne easily gives in. John, of course, catches them in bed together and instead of killing Anne, he sends her away, never to see her children again. She chooses self-starvation to lament her adultery, which sends her to her death bed. The other woman is Susan Mountford who's brother, Charles, prostitutes her out to their enemy, Sir Frances Acton, to whom he is deeply in debt. She refuses but in the in is forced to marry Acton.

Katie Mitchell put's these two story lines on equal par having the two household share the stage. The set is amazing with the Mountford's dilapidated Georgian home to the left and the Frankfort Arts-and-Crafts manor to the right. Throughout the piece Mitchell has introduce beautifully choreographed movements indicating the passage of time and the solitude these women share. But it felt, much like the split set, that I was experiencing two completely different texts - Heywood's text and Mitchell's vision. They were not cohesive, but rather played in cuts - as if Mitchell cut and paste chunks of Heywood's text into her contemporary, existential production. And it felt entirely dogmatic - oh look at how badly women are treated! And still are, this play is so relevant still! This is most evident by Mitchell giving the last line originally spoken by John at Anne's deathbed to Susan, who delivers it full of contempt "Here lies she whom her husband's kindness kill'd".

Although there were some beautiful, poignant and even charming moments they were not enough to lift up the whole. In the end I cared nothing for the characters, thought the acting was inconsistent, the direction even more inconsistent and felt like I was being preached at.