Is it all going wrong for Spacey at the Old Vic?

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The Independent Online
KEVIN SPACEY must be ruefully contemplating the wisdom of his choice to turn his back on Hollywood and Broadway to lead one of London's most treasured historic theatres into a new era.

As he opened the papers yesterday, the Old Vic's artistic director was not only confronted with several bad reviews for the theatre's latest play, National Anthems, but a question about his suitability for the position he took up amid much fanfare 12 months ago.

Paul Taylor, in this newspaper, ended his review by questioning what had gone wrong "with this weird regime'' at the theatre, while the Evening Standard's Nicholas de Jongh aired "serious doubts about whether Kevin Spacey is the right man to run the Old Vic.''

Others sprang to his defence, but pointed out that the initial glamour of his appointment could be wearing off.

Terri Paddock, the editorial director of, said: "The lustre has gone. Spacey has gone as far as he can on his name alone, and he has had a rocky start. There are lots of people murmuring about this in the industry and some, such as the critics, ... are voicing stronger misgivings."

Ms Paddock said some felt the problems could be attributed to poor programming decisions, with the first play Spacey put on, Cloaca, being by a little-known playwright.

She added: "He [Spacey] took a lot of risks with programming for the first season. Now he and his team at the Old Vic have to prove themselves. He is a good figurehead, but he needs a good team around him. He could still turn it around with his programming choices in his second season."

Michael Billington, writing in The Guardian, said: "I would simply beg him... to bombard us in future with masterpieces. There is a wealth of work in which one would love to see him: Shakespeare, Ibsen, O'Neill, Mamet, the great American comedies."

Although the appointment of Spacey was generally regarded within the theatre world as a coup for the Old Vic and its chief executive, Sally Greene, things did not go smoothly for the team from the off.

Even Spacey's off-stage life, not least the mysterious affair of his dog in the night time of a London park, seemed jinxed, and his long-planned movie of Bobby Darin's life, Beyond the Sea, bombed both critically and at the box office.

He also raised a few hackles after airing his disapproval at theatregoers who "misbehaved". He told BBC Radio 4's Front Row programme last September: "If people don't know how to behave, they shouldn't come.

"You have to respect the fact there is some degree of behaviour that we expect in the theatre, and we're going to demand it at the Old Vic."

He was speaking a week before the opening production of his first season of four plays, which he chose to direct personally. Cloaca, by the unknown Dutch television writer Maria Goos, was panned virtually across the board.

The Daily Telegraph critic Charles Spencer called the play "a stinker", adding it was "slick, superficial and as unappealing as its title".

With Sir Ian McKellen in ebullient form as a Dame, and with heroic repair work on a leaky script from comic stalwarts such as Maureen Lipman and Roger Allam, the pantomime of Aladdin just about survived a signally uneven production, leaden choreography and dismal slapstick.

Inevitably, much was riding on the first play to feature Spacey himself, National Anthems, by the American writer Dennis McIntyre which opened on Tuesday.

Yet despite the bad reviews, the plays have performed well at the box office. Cloaca's pre-opening advance sale, touching pounds 500,000, saved it from financial problems and McIntyre's play may follow suit. Aladdin's star-wattage made it a near sell-out success at the box office, and the advance for the final production of the season, Philip Barry's high comedy, The Philadelphia Story, starring Spacey as C K Dexter Haven, is strong (a reported pounds 400,000 in the first week of booking alone).

But even with this season likely to end up financially in the black, the impression of a beleaguered operation remains.

The theatre, which now employs a branding consultant, has also been accused of trying to move upmarket.