Richard III, Schaubühne Berlin, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews
Richard III, Schaubühne Berlin, Barbican
Richard III, Schaubühne Berlin, Barbican
More or less a one-man show, but the denouement justifies everything
Hated the Schaubühne Hamlet (same lead actor, same director as this latest Shakespeare auf Deutsch); loved Ivo van Hove's Toneelgroep Kings of War, with Hans Kesting's Richard III on the highest level alongside the Henrys V and VI. Thomas Ostermeier's Berlin ensemble is nowhere near as vivid overall as van Hove's Dutch team, but everything that didn't work for me about Lars Eidinger's Prince of Denmark turns to fool's gold in his brilliant take on the bunch-back'd dissembler turned mass-murderer. It's a performance which takes you further than you thought possible.
And the stage - in Jan Pappelbaum's designs, mud walls divided by a central entrance covered by an oriental rug and a sandpit that gets studded with gold and silver streamers, like an Anselm Kiefer painting - is all Richard's. We've laughed at the way his most skilled portrayers work the audience - Mark Rylance's Globe king the funniest of them all - but this spider's appeal to have us complicit in his web-weaving only makes his isolation in his narrower world the more frightening. We see him limping around the edge of the party at the start, grabbing an illuminated, dangling mike to break into the loud dance music - memorable work from composer Nils Ostendorf, enriched by the live percussion of Thomas Witte - and telling us his thoughts.
Then he turns utterly plausible and natural in every meeting with his pale enemies or stooges. While everyone else at court seems terrified of human contact, Eidinger's Richard is the supreme hugger. We believe him, too, for the duration, and then, weirdly, begin to pity him when it goes too far. As Ostermeier points out in a too-brief programme interview, there's no leader like this one on the scene today - that we know of, anyway - so despite modern dress the situations still feel timeless.
Even the most implausible capitulation, that of the widow Anne (played in subdued fashion by Jenny König) whose husband he's murdered, gets an extra kick when Richard strips off and presents his naked body to the sword (pictured above). Ostermeier is always alert to parallels. The nakedness of Clarence in his cell, faced with two inept (and briefly funny) assassins, is exposure for real. And in the symmetry created alongside Marius von Mayenburg's prose translation, memorable lines repeated in English return in the context of Richard's last big soliloquy, beautifully spoken ("I myself find in myself no pity to myself" will chill you in both languages).
Eidinger repeats the jolting success of his Hamlet in stepping out of Shakespeare's text for audience participation. There's a scene in which we're asked to join him in lines about pussy and shit, which would work if the majority had been chilled to the bone by the monosyllabic sound he's started to hear in his head - a doom beat heralding disintegration. But last night's crowd were a touch too ready to laugh and join in. The spell briefly broken, though, the sound simply becomes more persistent, and Eidinger's second audience-testing about whether we hear what he hears - at which point the sound briefly stops - is more in keeping. This is Ostermeier's reversal of Van Hove's coup, where low-level sound controlled by an onstage DJ burst into violent life at the two-thirds mark. Here, the rest moves inexorbly towards silence.
Shakespeare makes it easier for us to side with Richard when the opposition is so weak - old Margaret excepted. She's played by Robert Beyer in a constrained move from the usual melodrama, with the result that she has little impact at all, and the climactic Greek-tragedy cursing in which she's joined by Elizabeth and Richard's mother - excised here completely - has got the chop, as so often alas these days, so there's no viable moral challenge. Perhaps Ostermeier wants us to see everyone around Richard as lacking what it means to be human, twisted in him, of course, but there in spades. The point may extend to the clever idea of the princes going to the Tower being puppets who speak in adult voices (pictured right). But unlike Eidinger, the other actors are dull of tongue and quietish (don't they teach voice projection on the continent?)
Give them a microphone, and they can make more impact, which is why the ghostly visitation in Richard's sleep works so well, helped immensely by Erich Schneider's always effective lighting design. Ultimately the stage is left to its protagonist, and in the last 10 minutes you'll see theatre at a level we rarely get here, including what is described in the programme credits as "stage combat", but with a twist. To say more would spoil the ultimate effect of what is a thrilling performance by Eidinger and a flawless piece of work from Ostermeier.
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