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Saved by the Bard?

LONDON – Will Shakespeare save Kevin Spacey? We’ll find out in the fall, when the two-time Oscar winner embarks on his first British foray with the Bard: “Richard II,” directed by Trevor Nunn. Show will launch the second season of Spacey’s tenancy at the Old Vic, where thesp’s evident penchant for new plays seems to be running afoul of London crix.

Some — though by no means all — of the early British reviews for “National Anthems” were as bad if not worse than those for “Cloaca,” the Dutch season opener by Maria Goos, which Spacey directed but didn’t act in. Not that auds seem to mind: “Anthems” has an advance in excess of £1 million ($1.88 million), easily the highest in London for a non-musical.

There has been an undercurrent of anti-Americanism in some of the complaints (“Has Spacey yet got the pulse that matters to us in England?” mused the Times’ Benedict Nightingale). There’s also been the suggestion that Spacey is just the latest victim of the British fondness for knocking down a peg or two anyone who is seen to have done too well: “Pride and the Pitfalls of Being a One-Man Show,” blared a two-page broadside in the Feb. 10 Evening Standard.

Oddly, the crix’ insistence that Spacey turn away from new works and toward classics runs against the grain; normally, the cry is for more fresh material, since that is seen as far braver. “We were damned if we did and damned if we didn’t,” Old Vic producer David Liddiment admitted prior to the Feb. 8 opening of “Anthems.” “We’ll have shows the critics like and shows they don’t like; there’s no point moaning about it.”

Try telling that to the critics.

Brit Bits

  • Cameron Mackintosh has bowed out of co-producing the 2006 West End revival of “Evita,” which means composer-impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber will have to find a new producing partner or go it alone. Lloyd Webber is paging the hotter-than-hot team of Michael Grandage and Christopher Oram (“Don Carlos”) to direct and design the show.

  • The screen Mary Poppins is coming to see the stage one: A gala at the Prince Edward Theater is planned in March for Julie Andrews, who will be the centerpiece of a charity evening at — what else? — “Mary Poppins,” the stage musical of the film for which Andrews won her Oscar.

High-Priced Acorns

“Acorn Antiques” opened Feb. 10 at the Theater Royal Haymarket, amid considerable grumbling at its record West End top ticket of £65, or $122, for three of its eight shows per week (the others top out at £55, or $103). So guess which tickets have been the easiest to move? “The most expensive ones,” says co-producer Paul Roberts.

The notably pricey ducat is easily explained: “Acorn Antiques” has a cast the size of “The Producers,” Roberts tells Variety, “in a small venue, and it’s a big show.” In addition, star Julie Walters has only agreed to a 16-week run. And given that she and creator Victoria Wood are integral to the material, which Brits know from the beloved BBC comedy sketches of the same name, it’s unlikely the show will be able to carry on without her.

Roberts pegged the cost of the tuner, with its cast of 22, at £1.7 million ($3.18 million); as of opening night, the advance stood at £1.9 million ($3.55 million).

Wondrous Warbling

The inaugural of London’s new cabaret venue Feb. 2, flagged in my previous Strands, was, quite simply, a wow. Both separately and together, “Blithe Spirit” star Joanna Riding and “The Woman in White’s” leading man Martin Crewes made a singularly inspired pair as they cantered through an hour-plus of songs about that age-old topic — love — in a manner that couldn’t have been livelier, sometimes raunchier or more fresh.

Show was heavy on Broadway composers, from Stephen Schwartz (“I’m Not That Girl,” from “Wicked”) to the late Cy Coleman. A return engagement is being mooted.

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