Film Review: NOW: In the Wings of a World Stage

Fascinating insider look into the recent world-class Old Vic stage production and ten-month tour of <i>Richard III</i> that hit nine international cities. A gift not just for Kevin Spacey and theatre fans but for viewers who thrill to travel, live perfo

And “now” for something completely thrilling, because that’s the feeling most viewers will get on this ride through debuting feature filmmaker Jeremy Whelehan’s NOW: In the Wings of a World Stage. The doc follows the Old Vic’s stage production of Shakespeare’s Richard III from rehearsals at the storied Old Vic London venue where it debuted (Kevin Spacey has been the theatre’s artistic director since 2003) to its final engagement almost a year later at Brooklyn’s Academy of Music.

The months in between capture cross-continental snippets of the company’s rehearsals, performances, camaraderie and revealing shop talk in theatres like Greece’s ancient Epidaurus amphitheatre (seating a whopping 14,000), an 1860 Naples theatre, and an ancient Egyptian venue with the Pyramids and Sphinx equally dramatic as backdrop. A jaw-dropping, ultra-modern Beijing venue included video projection, and Sydney and San Francisco are also among the nine stops.

There’s plenty of backstage banter and drama revealed, but nothing harsh. Intimate talk about what stage acting demands and how it rewards replace All About Eve-like juiciness and backstabbing. What most powerfully comes across is the deep-felt bond amongst the acclaimed 19-member troupe, who share understanding of their Richard III characters, Shakespeare’s intentions and their interpretations. Also in share mode are some members of the company’s dedicated offstage forces, from director Sam Mendes (who directed Spacey years ago in the Oscar-winning American Beauty) to the loyal, hardworking stagehands. A vet of both stage and screen, Mendes marvels at “theatre’s transient nature” and “the thrill that it is live.”

Providing viewers with some fresh-air relief from the gorgeous but sometimes musty theatre interiors, Whelehan follows his subjects on sightseeing excursions, as they walk along China’s Great Wall, travel by yacht on the scenic waters off Naples and Amalfi, have some fun sliding on the dunes of a desert outside Doha, and take in the glory of some of Istanbul’s mammoth structures. What’s fascinates is also how close we believe we are to these performers as they analyze and inhabit their characters and convey their emotional lives. It’s a stark contrast to where the sightseeing takes them.

Discussions of Shakespeare’s text by the actors provoke many thoughts. For instance, are Richard and the doomed young Anne (one of many) doing a tango of sex or love during their complex courtship? And there’s Gemma Jones’ take on the role truth plays in her interpretation of Queen Margaret, a kind of seer who functions as the play’s Greek chorus to clarify all the plotting and violent twists. And what role does an actor’s instinct play in a character written hundreds of years ago? Or how humorous can the monstrous Richard III be played, as he does betray a taste for sarcasm?

Watching Spacey tackle the part of the wicked hunchback power-grabber and serial murderer is riveting. But NOW is no cloying vanity production. Spacey, as just another member of the troupe and as the wretched Richard, has but a sliver of screen time. Many others weigh in, including Maureen Anderman as the Duchess of York, Jones as Queen Margaret, Chandler Williams as George, Duke of Clarence, Annabel Scholey as Lady Anne, and Haydn Gwynne as Queen Elizabeth.

Best of all, NOW (the title comes from the play’s famous and prophetic first line “Now is the winter of our discontent,” spoken by Richard) answers the question of how so rigorous a schedule of performing worldwide and in the company of the same traveling companions can still be so rewarding. Talent and a love of the work and others in the trenches have much to do with it.

Click here for cast & crew information.

NOW opens in select theatres on May 2 and is available for download at