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Theater Review: 'Richard III' -- 3 stars

Chandler Williams and Kevin Spacey in "Richard III."

Chandler Williams and Kevin Spacey in "Richard III." (Joan Marcus) Credit: Chandler Williams and Kevin Spacey in "Richard III." (Joan Marcus)

Richard III
3 stars

Do you take your "Richard III" with or without a hunchback?

Recent revivals of Shakespeare's thriller-like history play have downplayed the title villain's physical deformities in order to focus on his mental and moral corruption.

Sam Mendes' new modern-dress production at BAM, which stars Kevin Spacey in the title role, tries to do both - and succeeds for the most part.

One of Shakespeare's earliest plays, "Richard III" observes how the utterly malevolent Duke of Gloucester disposes of anyone who stands in his way to become the king of England, including innocent family members.

As Richard, Spacey sports a prosthetic hump and walks with a cane and mechanized leg brace to overcome a twisted limp.

Yet even without the excessive physical displays, he gives an absolutely tireless performance that is loud, larger than life, gleefully evil, impatient and genuinely psychotic.

Spacey can also be very funny, such as when he delivers his opening monologue ("Now is the winter of our discontent") in a paper crown.

At three hours plus, however, the play could really use some cuts. But Mendes does clarify the bulk of the drama by framing it in terms of Richard's constant pursuit of his goal. The director also heightens the militaristic atmosphere with live percussion music.

Gemma Jones is striking as a ghoulish Queen Margaret, and Haydn Gwynne - the dance teacher in the musical "Billy Elliot" - makes for a dignified and cynical Queen Elizabeth, who is all too aware that her family is in danger but is helpless to stop Richard's path of destruction.

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