Kevin Spacey's One Man Tour De Force Farewell

By Londonist Last edited 42 months ago
Kevin Spacey's One Man Tour De Force Farewell ★★★★☆ 4

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Of all the ways the Old Vic could have bid farewell to Kevin Spacey, a one-man play that gives free reign to his ferocious talent is a fine choice indeed.

The revered Hollywood star steps down as Artistic Director of the Waterloo theatre this autumn. And for his farewell performance he has returned to the role of real-life civil rights lawyer Clarence Darrow in Thea Sharrock's production of David W Rintel's play, which had a short but widely acclaimed run last summer.

It might not be the most crowdpleasing swan song, but it is one hell of a performance. Spacey brings the fearless campaigner to life with phenomenal energy and power. A titan of the American left in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Darrow was famous for cases such as the Scopes 'Monkey' Trial, about the right to teach evolution in schools. He also successfully defended a black doctor accused of murder while protecting his family from the Ku Klux Klan, and led a campaign that eventually established the eight hour working day.

Rintel's play has the elderly lawyer looking back over these and other cases from his heralded yet controversial career. Which — inspiring though the issues are — might sound like a rather dry piece of theatre. If they were the words of a lesser statesman or in the hands of a lesser actor, 90 minutes of law chat would probably have heads nodding. But Darrow was a wonderfully eloquent wordsmith, whose impassioned courtroom tirades no doubt inspired many a John Grisham. And in Spacey's hands, they are the most compelling speeches you'll ever witness.

Segments of background narration are interspersed with verbatim courtroom re-enactments — the really thrilling moments that erupt as furious sermons, tearful pleas or even sardonic wisecracks. But it's not just the passionate delivery of Darrow's righteous indignation that makes Spacey's performance so sensational. There's also the sheer physicality of it. This is a one man play set in the round. Imagine that for an acting challenge — trying to hold an audience single-handed when your back is turned to half of them for half of the play.

But Spacey is captivating throughout. He prowls around the small stage, and out into the audience, addressing small sections as the jurors in whatever case he's recollecting. And wherever he might be — right in front of you or with his back turned on the other side of the theatre — you can't take your eyes off him, and hang on his every word. That's the mark of an acting legend, and one whose presence will be greatly missed from the London stage.

By Dan Frost

Clarence Darrow runs at the Old Vic, The Cut SE1, until 11 April. Tickets are sold out, but day tickets (£10-£65) go on sale at the box office at 10am on the day of each performance — get there early and queue. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 16 March 2015