Spacey takes on the Bard

Oscar winner eyes 'Richard II'

LONDON — Kevin Spacey will tackle his first British production of Shakespeare next fall, when the double Oscar winner plays the title role in “Richard II,” directed by Trevor Nunn.

Production will launch Spacey’s second season as artistic director of the Old Vic Theater, following what so far has been a fairly rocky first one.

“Richard II” should answer those London critics who have expressed dismay at Spacey’s choice of new work. Both “Cloaca” and “National Anthems,” which opened Feb. 8, have received some harsh reviews (although the latter has its admirers).

Intervening production “Aladdin” did near sellout biz but was of interest only for Ian McKellen’s star turn.

The Shakespeare play takes Spacey back to his roots: His professional debut during Juilliard days was as a messenger in Des McAnuff’s production of “Henry IV, Part 1,” in New York’s Central Park.

But at the time he took over the Vic last fall, Spacey told Daily Variety, “I didn’t want to start with perhaps what people thought we would start with, or do the classics or do Shakespeare, because I thought people are going to expect that; let’s do the unexpected.”

Winter of discontent

Instead, the British critics have been clamoring for anything but new plays — or, at least, the new plays Spacey has so far chosen. “Let’s see him in Shakespeare and the American classics,” wrote Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph in his review of “National Anthems,” “not mediocre fare like this.”

Not that the box office is suffering: “National Anthems” has an advance in excess of £1 million ($1.88 million), easily the highest of any nonmusical at the moment in London.

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