Kevin Spacey finally wins the approval of British critics

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The Independent Culture

They may adore him in Hollywood but British theatre critics have proved a tougher audience for Kevin Spacey. Yet the scribes finally gave their nod of approval yesterday when the star of films that includeThe Usual Suspects and American Beauty was honoured at the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards for 2005.

Spacey, the artistic director of the Old Vic in London, was presented with the John and Wendy Trewin Award for best Shakespearean performance in Richard II. Michael Coveney, who reviewed the production for The Independent, presented the award, praising the "decisive professionalism" of his depiction of the monarch.

His Richard II was quite different from the self-pitying martyrdom of early 20th-century productions with stars such as John Gielgud, or the "exotic priggishness" shown more recently by Jeremy Irons and Samuel West, Coveney said. Instead Spacey brought "unexpectedness, brilliance and sheer presence" in a great production directed by Trevor Nunn.

Spacey acknowledged past tensions, joking: "This is from the critics, right?"

A number of the cast attended the ceremony in London and he thanked them for their support."I was quite terrified of taking on the role of an English king and trying to be convincing in both the language and the accent in a performance that made some sense but didn't necessarily come in a tradition of how Richards had been attacked before," Spacey said. "I'm enormously proud to have brought Shakespeare back to the Old Vic."

Critical reaction to much of Spacey's first season at the Old Vic was mixed to the point of hostile, with many condemning his choice of plays, although some admired his personal performances.

But the public have always loved the adoptive Brit, and he received further acclaim yesterday in the whatsonstage.com website awards voted for by the public. Spacey was voted best actor, defeating rivals including Simon Russell Beale, whose performance in The Philanthropist at the Donmar was the critics' choice. Richard II was voted the best Shakespearean production, while Ian McKellen's debut in pantomime at the Old Vic was the public's theatre event of the year.

Terri Paddock, of whatsonstage, said: "The public have supported Spacey all along but it's wonderful that he is being vindicated by the critics too."

Other winners at the Critics' Circle Awards were Eve Best, named best actress for Hedda Gabler. The public voted for Kristin Scott Thomas in As You Desire Me. Everyone united in praise for Billy Elliot.

The public chose Ewan McGregor and his Guys and Dolls co-star, Jane Krakowski, as best actor and actress in a musical.

Michael Grandage was named best director by the critics for The Wild Duck by Ibsen at the Donmar.

The winners

Best New Play

HARVEST by Richard Bean

Best Musical (new or revival)

BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL

Best Actor

SIMON RUSSELL BEALE, above, for The Philanthropist

Best Actress

EVE BEST for Hedda Gabler

Best Director

MICHAEL GRANDAGE for The Wild Duck

The John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance

KEVIN SPACEY for Richard II

Best Designer

TIMOTHY BIRD and DAVID FARLEY for Sunday in the Park with George

Most Promising Playwright

LAURA WADE for Breathing Corpses and Colder Than Here

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