Review: Clarence Darrow at The Old Vic (31/05/2014)


In this day in age, Kevin Spacey sells. As a staple in the current Hollywood moment it is hard to go a day without seeing or hearing of him. Whether that is about the Netflix spectacular House of Cards, or the fact that he is voicing an animated version of himself as the newest villain in the Call of Duty series, he undoubtedly attracts attention. And rightly so. What many people don’t know about Kevin Spacey is that ten years ago he decided to move to from the US to London to become the Artistic Director of The Old Vic theatre in Waterloo. This is the same man that was riding off the back of the multi-award winning role of Lester Burnham in American Beauty. Many called him crazy, but having been to The Old Vic, I can see why Spacey fell in love with it.

Celebrating ten years, and marking the end of his time as Artistic Director of The Old Vic, Kevin Spacey returns to the stage for a one-man spectacular performing as notorious American lawyer and civil libertarian, Clarence Darrow. Double Oscar winner Spacey, 54, played the same character on stage in Inherit The Wind and 22 years ago in the PBS film Darrow, whose director John David Coles has recently directed Spacey in three episodes of House of Cards. The ticket sales emphasise the fact that Kevin Spacey sells in the way that many people were in an online queue of 3000+ people on the day the tickets were released. Notably, one thing I found to be very humbling, is that under 25s are offered a discount through The Old Vic’s partnership with PWC. This demonstrates an attempt to stop the stigma that only older people enjoy the theatre, and at the performance, the crowd was extremely diverse, all bought together in the love of theatre and Kevin Spacey.

The Old Vic as a venue is fantastic. The words Clarence Darrow riding high, glistening above the doors added extra excitement upon arrival. Here was something I had never witnessed before and will probably never witness again; Kevin Spacey doing what he does best, for ninety minutes, not on the screen, but in the flesh.

The set up in The Old Vic for Clarence Darrow arranged the seats in the round, with only a plinth in the centre resembling a messy office space. Photography was strictly forbidden even before the play begins, as the attendants stated ‘Kevin would be fuming’ if we took away the magic. Two feet appeared propped up on a chair with someone under the adjourning desk. Out struggles Spacey, who then paces around the theatrical space, animated and interesting even before any words are spoken, I was immediately captivated, and wished I could have been sat in the stalls, mere centimetres away from the man himself.

Clarence Darrow tells the story of how the title character became the notorious fin-di-sicle civil libertarian and lawyer. Spacey, as Darrow, unpacks the messy office taking the audience through his life, case by case. In the romantic view that lawyers are also great thespians, Spacey delivers Darrow’s life with compassion: “I’ve committed one crime which cannot be forgiven” he booms melodramatically, “I have stood up for the weak and poor”.

The play is never stagnant with the audience held on every single one of Spacey’s Southern slurs. The most heartwarming part of Clarence Darrow was undoubtedly the audience interaction. Not in the most conventional sense, in that he never asked for their opinions, he simply used them as props to outline his cases. At one point he even squeezed himself between two ladies in the front row and put his arms around them – making me even more jealous of the higher end ticket buyers. With Spacey’s timely wit, Clarence Darrow oozed humour in just the right places. For example, Spacey gesticulated: “I’ve spent a lot of my life advising men what to do. Sometimes they’ve had the sense to listen, and sometimes to not listen.”

10/10 – All in all, the performance would not have been the same without the incredible acting talent of Kevin Spacey. Not only was it awe-inspring to see him away from the movie/TV screen, it was humbling to see him go back to basics. Two shows a day for 18 days, and not an ounce of passion missing. Who knows when he will next provide an opportunity such as this?


About Author

I’m Megan Downing, an English Literature graduate from University of Southampton. I am the Music, Arts and Culture Editor for The National Student. I am the Membership and Communications Officer for the Student Publication Association, I write about music for 7BitArcade, and contribute regularly to The Culture Trip. I have a passion for live music and this is where I began in student journalism. Reviewing a gig or festival is still where my heart lies four years on. I will be starting at MTV as a News Intern in June 2015. One thing you should know about me is that I have an unhealthy obsession with Kevin Spacey.

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