Kevin Spacey's Richard III wows critics

Kevin Spacey as Richard III Sam Mendes has said Richard III is "a role I think Kevin was born to play"

Hollywood star Kevin Spacey has won critical praise for his portrayal of Richard III at London's Old Vic theatre.

The Oscar winner plays Shakespeare's famous villain with his leg in a metal brace, and limps with a walking stick.

The production, set in the modern day, reunites Spacey with American Beauty director Sam Mendes.

Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington praised Spacey's "powerful central performance".

"Sam Mendes has come up with a beautifully clear, coherent modern-dress production in which the protagonist becomes an autocratic archetype," he said.

Mendes directed Spacey in 1999's American Beauty, which gained the star the Oscar for best actor.

With its contemporary setting, the story draws parallels to dictatorial regimes currently making the headlines.

As James Woodall points out in his review for The Arts Desk: "Mendes provides a visually arresting, sonically sharp, sartorially unfussy reading. Richard is surrounded by slick-suited lackeys and spooks. Evocation of Libya-like implosion and militarism is plainly intended."

Kevin Spacey as Richard III and Annabel Scholey as Lady Anne Annabel Scholey as Lady Anne shares an intense scene early on in the play with Spacey's villain

Spacey delivers his opening "winter of discontent" speech alone on stage watching old TV footage, wearing a Christmas cracker party hat.

His Richard III is often starkly lit, casting multiple shadows to highlight his deformed back.

The Independent's Paul Taylor described the play as "spine-tingling".

"It's now 12 years since the pair joined forces as actor and director," he said. "Mendes's new, eclectically modern dress production of Richard III demonstrates that it has been worth the wait."

In the programme notes Spacey reveals he has given up drinking and smoking to help him cope with the physical and emotional demands of the role.

Charles Spencer, writing in The Telegraph, said: "There is a curious grace as he minces around on his withered leg and turned-in foot and exactly the right kind of glee in his villainy. His Richard is often laugh out loud funny."

The cast includes Haydn Gwynne as Queen Elizabeth, Gemma Jones as Queen Margaret, Jack Ellis as Hastings and Chuk Iwuji as Buckingham.

Richard III marks the third and final season of the Bridge Project, an initiative that brings together British and American actors in classic theatre productions.

As well as its Old Vic run the production will embark on an international tour, including the Athens and Epidaurus Festival, the Hong Kong Arts Festival, Spain and Singapore, reaching New York in January 2012.

Among the celebrities in the first night audience were actor Robert Lindsay, DJ Goldie and singer Gareth Gates.

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