When Kevin Spacey took over at the Old Vic Theatre in 2003, there was a media storm. The haters gonna hate, and so they did. To be honest, I was sceptical. Why would one of Hollywood's biggest earners, and respected actors throw himself into an artistic directorship at what could be a failing theatre, flagging at best?
The answer was spelled out last night in spades. 15 minutes late on stage for his performance in one man show, Clarence Darrow, a noisy auditorium filled mostly with those under 25, immediately fell silent and for what seemed like 10 minutes (actually a first act of 40) and barely uttered a noise. No phones, no cameras, no toilet breaks, no coughing, just the pure exhilarating finesse of a true master.
Spacey’s first trip to the Old Vic was when he was seven. When his tenure ends and he hands over to the excellent Matthew Warchus, he will be 56. In the 12 years he has been at the helm of the theatre, he has starred in two shows per season, directed numerous others, and done his bit for the charitable side of the theatre. He’s also aged, but we’ll forgive him that. When asked, at the press conference to announce his coming, Spacey said that his tenure could last "5 seasons, it could be 10, it could be 20."
Kevin Spacey with Elton John and Judi Dench
Who is Kevin Spacey? That is a much talked about question which isn't the purpose of this article to explore. Some stars crave the public eye, some just work. I’d much rather win two Oscars, have a Special Award at the Olivier’s next month, than be able to balance a champagne glass on my backside and post 300 pictures a day to my Instagram feed. FYI - I haven’t accomplished any of the listed above.
Has Spacey’s charge been a 100% success? Of course not. But you won’t find a theatre in London that has been. There has however been artistic lead and that has been the huge value add.
With the Spacey Gala (or whatever the thing is called) on the 19 April, there will be one final massive push from the custodian of one of the world’s last great private producing house directors for donatable cash. At up to £2000 a ticket, it’ll be an impressive night. In fact, you can even buy a ticket at the nearby BFI Cinema to watch it on a screen for a mere £65!
The Old Vic Theatre receives no government subsidy. They do big fundraisers, they get big corporates involved (big pats on the back for PWC, American Airlines amongst others), but the more silent work of the £12 tickets for Under 25’s, £5 for local residents and the Old Vic New Voices (a show put on by young people with the help of professionals) is where the huge plaudits should come. Without someone at the helm to steer the ship and commit to projects like these, the Old Vic wouldn’t be what it is today.
Kevin Spacey as Clarence Darrow
Spacey is at the cutting edge of a hugely exciting and risky time for the world of television and film. As the star of House of Cards, produced by online only service Netflix, he has become a cult figure for a whole new generation, but I hope that it’ll be for his work in London’s West End that he’ll be championed.
Last night was one of the finest examples of this London theatrical legend to match the Olivier’s, Hall’s, Coward’s of this world. The final words I shall leave to King Kev himself, “we wanted to put on a show for students and young people. We weren’t sure if we could fit it in. When we realised that my flight was going to get me back from the States late on Tuesday, we were able to add this extra show for you.”
Kevin Spacey is currently starring in Clarence Darrow at the Old Vic Theatre. It’s sold out, but you can queue for a limited number of Day Seats - Advice: If you want tickets, get there by 7am! He will also be honoured with a Special Achievement at the Olivier Awards for his work at the Old Vic Theatre.