Wednesday, October 5, 2005 Posted: 0959 GMT (1759 HKT)

【LONDON, England (AP) -- When an electrical surge briefly played havoc with

the opening night of Kevin Spacey's keenly anticipated "Richard II," it was

tempting to see it as a bad omen.】

Fortunately, it turned out to be a minor glitch -- and an apt metaphor in a

play about gaining and losing power.

The Oscar-winning actor's London Shakespearean debut was sleek and assured,

banishing many of the doubts raised by Spacey's uneven opening year in charge

of the Old Vic.

In Spacey's first season as artistic director, many critics praised his

performances but questioned his choice of plays. There are no such qualms

about this production -- Shakespeare's history play emerges as an ever-timely

study of power and its abuses.

"Richard II" depicts a careless king who loses his crown and a bold challenger

who gains it, only to find that power brings loneliness and the gnawing

certainty he will one day fall.

Sometimes seen as a portrait of a weak king, in director Trevor Nunn's muscular

modern-dress staging the play becomes a tense, fast-moving study of power in action.

Spacey's Richard is a monarch so comfortable with his absolute authority he

commands courtiers with the flick of the finger or the twitch of his brow.

When that power is challenged, he goes from disbelief to violent, impotent rage.

Spacey's physically expressive Richard easily switches from charm to shock to

red-faced anger, although at times he seems hollow beneath his royal exterior

-- without power, he is nothing. In defeat and exile, however, Richard finds

a kind of self-knowledge, and Spacey achieves a moving dignity.

Spacey commands the Old Vic stage, but does not dominate it. This is an ensemble

production -- as much about the king's envious courtiers and jealous rivals as

the king himself -- with strong performances especially from Ben Miles as the

challenger Bolingbroke and Peter Eyre as the vacillating Duke of York.

Nunn's production moves swiftly without sacrificing Shakespeare's language,

and makes effective use of video images and other technology, despite the

opening-night glitches. The design, by Hildegard Bechtler, is sumptuous;

from the courtiers' expensive suits to the queen's Giorgio Armani dresses

and the robes of king and nobles, the production creates an affluent, elegant,

superficial court, bereft of ideas except the gaining and keeping of power.

There is power, too, in the contrast of sleek modernity and medieval pomp.

There is an effective shock when the scene switches from the red-robed court

to a modern world of TV screens and mobile phones. We're reminded -- and

struck by how odd it seems -- that the archaic pageantry of wigs and robes

and scepters still exists in 21st-century Britain.

(Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may

not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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