Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jeremy Whelehan.
At the height of his Hollywood career, dual Oscar winning actor Kevin Spacey left Tinseltown to pursue a role as the artistic director of London’s famous Old Vic Theatre, where he trod the boards in the shadows of illustrious giants of the theatre such as Gielgud and Olivier. He relished the physicality of the return to performing on stage. One of the many achievements of his return to the theatre was The Bridge Project Company, a trans-Atlantic theatre company combining actors from America and England. Their crowning theatrical piece was a revival of the classic Shakespearean drama Richard III with its themes of power, ambition and corruption.
The play was a collaboration between Spacey and director Sam Mendes, the veteran theatre director with whom he had worked on the Oscar winning American Beauty. Mendes kept pushing Spacey towards greater revelations about the relationship between Richard and his mother (played by theatre veteran Gemma Jones). The mercurial Spacey himself delivered an old fashioned barnstorming performance as the duplicitous, tyrannical and power hungry hunchbacked king of England. His interpretation of the character also bears a few similarities to his role as the manipulative Francis Underwood in the tv series House Of Cards.
Their production of Richard III was a rousing success, and in 2012 the company took the play on a global tour, performing the show some 200 times. The production played to packed houses in several countries on three continents around the globe, including Italy, Turkey, Qatar, China and even Australia. They even performed the play in an open air theatre in Greece, performing on the same stage where actors had strode over 2000 years earlier during the dawn of live theatre.
This fascinating documentary from first time director Jeremy Whelehan gives us a backstage pass into the heady world of professional theatre and is a celebration of the world of acting. Whelehan follows the company as they travel around the world bringing this interpretation of Richard III to audiences from different cultures and backgrounds. We are made privy to the extensive rehearsals as the cast workshopped this dynamic production, and we get glimpses from various performances in the different cities. The film looks at the logistics of staging the play in different cities and having to reconfigure the set in each new location.
But cinematographer Aadel Nodeh-Farahani also captures the beautiful landscapes and scenery of some of the different cities visited. During a break between performances the actors visit the Great Wall of China, a Buddhist Temple, or journey into the deserts of Qatar. Nodeh-Farahani captures the essence of these exotic locations, but he also captures the wonderful contrasts found in Turkey with both its European and Asian influences. These scenes add a postcard style beauty and travelogue-like visual gloss to the material.
There are interviews with Mendes himself, who talks about his vision for the play and his working methods to bring out the essence of the play and the character. Spacey also talks about how the play still has relevance today, especially given some of the tumultuous events in the Middle East. At one stage his costume for Richard is modelled on that worn by the late Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. And Spacey also remarks on how this play was probably the most demanding experience of his career.
There were 19 members in the cast, some were very familiar with the works of Shakespeare while others were novices to performing his works. Many of them offer insights into the craft of acting and some of the challenges of the lifestyle. They also speak about how travelling in a theatre troupe like this becomes a bonding experience, and how they become a sort of cohesive functioning family. Some of the actors also talk about how the worldwide tour was a rewarding experience but also emotionally draining. It seems like it was a very harmonious world tour without any of the conflicts that one would expect when egos are involved.
The title of this documentary refers to the fact that a theatre performance is alive and immediate, and happens only once in the eyes of the audience. Each performance is a little different, unlike a film which can be viewed many times over and remains the same.
Theatre buffs will find much to enjoy about Now. Others may feel a slight sense of discontent. In 1996 Al Pacino took us behind the scenes of his performance as Richard III in his documentary Looking For Richard, which arguably offered more insights into the play itself. However, it is a treat to see Spacey chewing the scenery on stage.