As a newly, self-proclaimed, House of Cards fiend, when I heard that Kevin Spacey was reprising the role of Clarence Darrow in the one-man play of the same name that he brought to the Old Vic last year – I had to get myself a ticket.
Luckily the Old Vic run a scheme whereby under 25’s can get (very good) tickets for £12. Somehow I managed to avoid the online queues and secured myself a stalls seat within 10 minutes of them going on sale. A perfect way to forget mother’s day, I’d been looking forward to it for weeks and I was by no means disappointed!
Clarence Darrow was a prolific American lawyer who worked on some very high profile cases and campaigned tirelessly to represent and save individuals facing capital punishment. The play is literally Darrow in his office telling his life story, it brushes upon a wealth of topical social issues (with a pretty left wing slant), but let’s face it – this whole experience was about observing a master at work.
From the moment Spacey entered the stage (they’ve reconfigured the Old Vic to be in the round), he had the audience in the palm of his hand. I would go so far as to say we were already practically there before the lights went down – after a brief announcement to say that the show would be starting in a few minutes time the entire audience quickly fell into an anticipatory silence for a solid amount of time.
After emerging from beneath his desk, Spacey/Darrow paced the square stage without saying a word for longer than was bearable. Eventually, he started scoping out the audience, eyeballing specific individuals on the front few rows. He only began to speak when he was ready.
From that point on the play snowballed in a whirl of law cases, invisible characters and audience interaction. It’s an intense piece, I’m not entirely sure how one person can keep up dialogue at such a pace for a significant period of time while pacing around amid a considerable number of people.
The audience was directly used to flesh out parts of the story – he made a young man on the front row read out from a piece of paper, ‘louder’ he quipped back; upon being relieved from his duty, the young man looked visibly shaken, Spacey/Darrow paced off in the opposite direction then turned and responded ‘You’ll get over it!’ … a genius way to get the audience back with him and move the play along.
He often spoke directly to sections of the audience, using them as a mock jury, actively getting us invested in what he was saying; other times he’d point out audience members to make a point or simply give us a knowing look … my favourite being a knowing glance in our direction after a clever comment about Darwin’s inclusion on the curriculum. It was a captivating, exhilarating experience – my heart was pounding throughout.
I felt fully exposed for the entire ninety minutes. It felt like Spacey was talking directly to me, almost as if he had direct access to my thoughts – I’m sure the rest of the audience (including those standing in the upper circle) would concur. It left me with a very cohesive, warm, feeling – like we’d all been part of a unique experience, we’d all been through something together.
It received a more spontaneous, immediate, ovation than I’ve ever witnessed before. A truly wonderful experience that will stay with me for a long time to come. I believe the production is sold out, if you’ve not already got a ticket, beg, borrow or queue up for a very long time to get a return – this isn’t one to be missed! I give Clarence Darrow a rating of 4.5/5.