Kevin Spacey launches second season at helm of London's Old Vic theater

Tuesday, October 4th 2005, 10:36 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ Kevin Spacey was to launch his second season in charge of the Old Vic Tuesday, stepping onstage as a troubled British monarch in Shakespeare's ``Richard II.''

The Academy Award-winning actor has had troubles of his own since becoming artistic director of the venerable London theater in 2004. His first season produced solid box-office returns _ but decidedly mixed reviews.

``The stakes are high for every production he's going to do there _ because of who he is, because the theater is so high profile,'' said Terri Paddock, editorial director of Theatregoer magazine and the Web site ``And given that the first season had such a mixed reception, people are going to be looking at every production very closely.''

Spacey's first production at the Old Vic _ the dark comedy ``Cloaca'' by Maria Goos, a Dutch author whose work is little known in English _ was met with bemusement by critics. The Daily Telegraph called it ``trite, manipulative and sentimental''; a BBC review judged it ``tedious drivel.''

Things improved with ``Aladdin,'' a rollicking Christmas pantomime starring Sir Ian McKellen in a memorable cross-dressing turn. But the two final shows of the season _ evergreen comedy ``The Philadelphia Story'' and Dennis McIntyre's ``National Anthems'' _ received lukewarm reviews.

``I think it was brave of him to choose new work and take chances,'' said Paddock, ``but most of them didn't work out.''

Announcing the Old Vic's new season last month, Spacey said the first season ``was only the beginning of our commitment to deliver a challenging and entertaining program, with writers and productions never before seen on the London stage.'' The theater said it had played to a respectable 70 percent capacity over the season as a whole.

Built in 1818, the Old Vic was for generations the proving ground of British actors. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was the leading forum for Shakespeare in London, staging productions with Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson.

But by 1998, the theater was in danger of closing after years of financial trouble. It was rescued last year by a trust that includes Elton John and Spacey.

The new season opens with Shakespeare's play about a ruler whose throne is threatened, directed by Trevor Nunn. The winter will feature a revival of ``Aladdin'' and a British-Iraqi collaboration, ``The Soldier's Tale.'' In the spring, filmmaker Robert Altman will make his London stage directing debut with the first British production of ``Resurrection Blues,'' one of Arthur Miller's last works.