Even if you didn’t see the Bridge Project’s production of Richard III at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City, you cannot help but appreciate this wonderful documentary which chronicles the brilliant creators and actors of the Bridge Project and their amazing production of Richard III.
The Bridge Project was the collaborative brain child of Sam Mendes and Artistic Director of The Old Vic Theatre, Kevin Spacey, who conceived of touring the cities of the world with a company of British and American actors with the production of Richard III. Indeed, The Bridge Project was the first transatlantic company of actors to set out on this ambitious and prodigious endeavor to bring a transformative theatrical experience live to thousands.
Now in the Wings on the World Stage, which enjoyed its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, is a monumental historical account. It is important not only in that it is a first-of-a-kind live journal with comments from the cast and crew revealing an inside look at the nature of the endeavor that Spacey and the entire ensemble and artistic team took upon themselves. It is important as a record of the global audiences who appreciated the production precisely because it was a “one-of-a-kind experience” bordering on a sanctity and holiness that harkened back to the original intent of live theatre: to cleanse, to purify, to bring together humanity in a celebration of what is greatest in the human spirit by unveiling what is also the most damaging, horrific, and tragic.
Spacey’s and Mendes’ selection of Shakespeare’s Richard III was uncanny and in retrospect conveys a spiritual synchronicity that is almost spooky. At the time on the world’s geopolitical stage, Libya was going through its incredible revolution and own brand of Arab Spring. Richard III and Muammar al-Gaddafi represent in their fullness of despotism, fear, and selfishness one and the same ethos and malevolence. The resemblance was used to great effect in the costuming and in the design of the production of Richard III. Again and again, as Spacey took the stage, railed, laughed, nefariously plotted and grew increasingly inward and self- destructive, the themes were revisited in current events in Libya, in the Middle East, and Africa. The reality and truth of Shakespeare was born out nightly in London, Greece-the magnificent Theatre at Epidaurus, Hong Kong, mainland China, Naples, Sydney, and New York City, etc. (not in that order). And Whelehan and Spacey and Mendes and the cast and crew capture and distill the very best of their thoughts, feelings, perspectives, and knowledge about the process of bringing truth to life onstage as it reflected life around the world.
To know and understand that how The Bridge Project effected a merging of global audiences and actors, the genius of Shakespeare’s words, themes, and prophetic understandings with the present is beyond astounding and what great, truly great theater is about. It is for our time and for all time; it touches us preternaturally and it changes us. Whelehan manages to convey the essence of this. In the clips of the various theatres in Epidaurus (the theatre seats 15,000 with better acoustics than most NYC theatres), mainland China, London, etc, we understand the audience response, the joy, the electricity, the beauty, the other-worldly aspect of connections that transcend culture, time and place. Whether Spacey, Mendes, the cast and crew understood the depth of what they were contributing to benefit cultural alliances at the time, the documentary if revisited reveals the layers of good will measured out as these wandering entertainers traveled along their global and personal, interior journey.
It was not all glory and happiness. The routes were stressful and bumpy; cast missed family; Spacey put himself through grueling, grinding physical stresses. To Whelehan’s and the cast’s and crew’s credit, this is uncovered along with the inside jokes, personal responses, interior soulful admissions, and adorable, heartfelt, and very human quirkinesses. We get to know these people and appreciate them for their gifts and generosity, and we acknowledge the details as the filmmaker examines the terrain of each area, highlighting the beauty and uniqueness of the places visited. I especially enjoyed clips of Spacey’s yacht cruise with the cast along the Amalfi Coast, a place I have visited twice. It is an incredible paean to the ancient and the modern steeped in mythologies past and present.
What a beloved and incredible documentary. I apologize for loving it so; I did see Richard III twice, so I am biased. Nevertheless, if you appreciate the work of Spacey and Mendes and Jemma Jones (Bridget Jones’ mum), and missed seeing any of the work The Bridge Project brought to NYC, then what they were about is captured in Whelehan’s documentary in the clips, the cast and crew’s commentary and various backstage bits. And thrown in as a bonus you will see how they made history and chronicled the times we lived in that have been crowded out of our minds by present geopolitical machinations which are strangely similar. Above all, Now in the Wings on the World Stage is a cultural awakening. If you are open to it and allow it to touch you, though you may not have seen Richard III, this is a great way to get a feel for gobsmacking, live theatre with Kevin Spacey.
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