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Triple encore for Kevin Spacey, Sam Mendes & Co in Ancient Epidaurus

31 July 2011 / 16:07:42  GRReporter
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Maria S. Topalova 

Stifling July night. Audience of thousands, mostly Greeks. People of all ages sitting patiently on the hot ridged stones of the ancient theater in Epidaurus. For three hours the audience enthusiastically observed the story of one of the heaviest historical dramas of William Shakespeare - "Richard III" and it was even played in its original language. Maybe it sounds absurd. But it is not since the play is directed by Briton with Portuguese origin Sam Mendes and the role of the king, who remained in history for saying "My kingdom for a horse", is performed by the outstanding American actor Kevin Spacey. 

Visitors begin to accrue in the theater about an hour and a half before the play. A giant procession, firstly of cars, which features a flawless parking organization. No horns and no offensive remarks are heard and there are no eloquent gestures, so characteristic of local drivers. The last kilometer or two people to walk. Patiently waiting for their turn, without tension in order to enter the ancient Epidaurus. Most are dressed festively - the women wear silk dresses in varying lengths and colors and flat sandals, and men mostly wear shirts and long pants. An implicit "dress code", which very clearly shows the attitude towards the event. 

Twenty minutes before the actors appear on stage, the audience is already perched on the hot keeled stones. My place is at the bottom of the stands, on right from where I can see behind stage. Behind me, an elderly couple is trying to distinguish the silhouette of Kevin Spacey. "It’s this one with the suit," says the excited woman, and her husband looks in the dusk: "Where? Where?". He did not have to try harder to see because the next moment the lights fade and the magic begins. 

Shakespeare's monster Richard III, dominates the stage with his frantic lust for power. The outcaste hunchbacked gnome, with his crippled left leg, gutted relatives, drowned rivals, killed cold-bloodedly children and women, drives mothers and wives crazy, solely with the cherished goal - the royal throne. He very easily could be played as a serial killer and incorrigible recidivist, but Kevin Spacey does different. His Richard III is multi-layered. His very tragic figure, devoid of love and understanding, despised by friends and enemies and at the same time powerful and incredibly inventive, whose devilish sense of humor is often assessed by the audience’s applause and laughter. 

Oscar winner for his wonderful performance in the film "American Beauty" Kevin Spacey was indisputably the "hook" which led thousands of Greeks to buy tickets for the three performances of "Richard III" in the ancient Epidaurus. And he did not disappoint them, he showed the best Spacey on stage. But director Sam Mendes has a large share in the success of the play. His brilliant idea to "dress" the XV century English nobles fighters for power costumes of the modern stock traders and bank dealers from New York City and Wall Street simultaneously achieves two goals. On the one hand this shows that regardless of the methods and means, the self-struggle for power has changed little over the centuries and on the other as if the costumes remove the distance of time and serious Shakespearean speech seems to us as being part of our own daily lives. 

Sam Mendes skillfully affects human senses to convey the feeling to which he aspires. Under his instruction, the lighting transforms the antique stage and its scarce décor into a bright royal palace, into a dusk office of an excited English nobleman, into a bloody battlefield, into a lonely roadside inn. Wherever the action takes place, the stage always looks a bit like a modern loft apartment. Video installations, so popular in recent years both in the West End and on Broadway, plunge into the atmosphere of totalitarian regimes, tyranny of absolute monarchy, inhumanity of National Socialism and the crimes of communism . The production begins with the rumble of huge drums, and with development of the action more percussion instruments are added, behind which stand the actors when their characters die or disappear from the plot. 

The Shakespearean drama is a bit unfair to the historical figure of King Richard the Third, because in addition to his unscrupulous brutality he is also remembered as a good ruler. During his rule, trade in England flourishes, and he himself proves to be a patron of music and architecture. In the work of William Shakespeare, however, he ends on the gallows, betrayed by everyone. Kevin Spacey hangs upside down on a symbolic gallows for three whole minutes before the lights go off and the end of the show is announced. 

Great applause, which bring the director, actor and the whole team on stage three times. Triple triumph for the three performances of Richard III on the stage of the ancient Epidaurus. An incredible meeting of the ancient theater with the classical drama of William Shakespeare and the modern talent tandem Mendes-Spacey. Who says that higher art cannot make money? 

Tags: Shakespeare Richard III Kevin Spacey Sam Mendes Epidaurus
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