Title: Now:In The Wings On A World Stage
Director: Jeremy Whelehan
Major Players: Kevin Spacey, Sam Mendes, cast and crew of Richard III
Out Of Five: 3
Confession time. I’m a complete sucker for behind-the-scenes documentaries, especially when they’re about films or theatre productions. I also saw The Old Vic’s production of Richard III, which is the focus of Now:In The Wings On A World Stage. And I’m a huge Kevin Spacey fan. But, although once I’ve finished writing this, it’s back to The Old Vic to see him in Clarence Darrow, I’ll put all that to one side.
This is a record of the world tour of the theatre’s Richard III, the final production of The Bridge Project, a collaboration spearheaded by Spacey and director Sam Mendes. It took place in 2012, starting in London and taking in a further eight locations across three continents – touring theatre on a grand scale which nowadays is very rarely done.
This is, however, not just a video diary and more of a reflection by the cast on their roles, with added observations from some of the crew and the play’s director. Apart from a few rehearsal scenes, however, Sam Mendes, is confined to his office for the film and is noticeable by his absence on the tour, which means Spacey is very much at the helm. His relationship with the cast changes over the course of both the film and tour. At the start, there’s a sense of distance and that he’s very much in the driving seat, but he’s also behind fun activities that have a touch of Hollywood – a luxury boat off the Amalfi coast, for instance – and the cast evolves into a close knit team.
At which point you find yourself asking if you’re watching vanity project. Spacey fan I may be, but that doesn’t mean I’m uncritical, and there are moments when you can hear just the faint echo of backslapping. But, while putting theatre productions onto the big screen has become more of a regular feature at the cinema, bringing the experience to a wider audience, this production didn’t do that. It took the old school approach of touring, this time on a massive scale and that deserves to be preserved somehow, especially when some of the locations are so spectacular and lend themselves to the cinema.
This is all about seeing the off-stage moments, revealing the human side of the cast, even somebody as illustrious and notoriously enigmatic as Spacey. They talk openly about having off-days, turning up to perform and not feeling in the right frame of mind. One of the actors during a performance actually admits to the camera that he’s a ‘waste of space’ that day. But they’re pros and the show must go on. They’re human, after all!
While the actors are to the fore for the majority of the film, there’s more to the production that just the cast. There’s all the people behind the scenes. We get a flavour of what they do, especially through the stage manager, but could do with more, especially when a new location means a whole new crew. The logistics of such a tour are formidable and potentially a nightmare and more of this would have given the film more depth.
It also lacks a sense of connection with the audience. There’s enough shots of applause and standing ovations, but no other indication about how the fourth wall felt about what they’d seen, and they are just as much an integral part of the performance as the cast and crew.
Does it help if you saw the original production? Yes. The film is punctuated with the on-stage headings used in the production to mark new scenes or introduce new characters. Thankfully, Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s most familiar plays, but when the actors start talking about their approaches to their roles, a bit more knowledge pays dividends.
This isn’t the first time that a documentary has been made about a performance of Richard III. Looking For Richard (1996) was Al Pacino’s examination of the relevance of Shakespeare today, with him in the title role and Spacey as Buckingham. It had a much more confined setting, however, and featured chunks of a production interspersed with talking heads from the cast. It also looked at the thorny subject of why American actors always have problems doing Shakespeare, a very different to this film where it’s acknowledged by the American cast members at the outset as a potential issue, but it soon fades away.
It’s almost as if June has unofficially been designated Kevin Spacey month! His successor at The Old Vic has been announced, his one-man show, Clarence Darrow, has just opened and now this film is being released. If he’s aiming to go out on a high, the film is bound to hit the spot now with theatre fans and in the future with students of Richard III and theatre history. It’s more legacy than vanity.
Now:In The Wings On A World Stage is released in selected cinemas in the UK on Monday, 9 June and on demand from the website, nowthefilm.com, from Tuesday, 10 June.