By Danielle Farrow
Thomas Ostermeier directs Berlin’s Schaubühne Theatre in a magnificently presented, forceful ‘Richard III’, that rests squarely on the shoulders of Lars Eidinger as Richard. These are strong shoulders, bent over before being corseted and neck braced into straightness, and complete with hump. Energetically shuffling through dry clay, kneeling naked beside a coffin, fighting solo up ladder steps and across the wooden set’s gallery, Eidinger is riveting: his presence, focus, adlibs (in English), timing and connection are awe-inspiring. His tour de force performance is strongly supported by drummer Thomas Witte’s impressive percussion within Nils Ostendorf’s driving, thrumming music. Central surtitles do not capture everything said, but are Shakespeare’s words cut down and flow well with the playing.
While the space – occasionally with a platform for table and chair or coffin moved into it – is well used by all performers, the rest of the cast simply do not show Eidinger’s strength of character, connection or need, leading to lags when he is absent or not the main speaker, except for a well-grounded scene of both poignancy and humour where one murderer’s conscience almost gets in the way of the killing of Clarence. As performer after performer took their stately time with set speeches, it became clear that this rose from direction rather than individual self indulgence. This lessened forward movement of the play and variety within / across scenes, a stylistic choice leading to occasional clock-watching more than the decision to present this two and a half hour piece without an interval.
Richard’s conniving, entertaining, murderous journey from overlooked, over-zealous soldier essential to his brother’s gaining of the crown to deserted tyrant battling himself as much as others is here presented with glorious sound and visuals, including Erich Schneider’s atmospheric lighting and scenic projection over the naturally textured set of designer Jan Pappelbaum. A central microphone provides a somewhat rock-legend Richard with a method of recording his thoughts – and others’ promises to him, on occasion – and is also a camera, sometimes used effectively, but actually distancing instead of enhancing the thrills of the ghostly visitations from those Richard has murdered.
This ‘Richard III’ has a pulsingly thrilling core in Eidinger and Witte and is magnificently presented aurally and visually, a must see for these. The side-lining of women characters (greatly cut) and actors (why, nowadays, so many men, including playing the great curser-of-all Margaret?) is a niggle some may not feel at all, but there is a wish that the rest of the cast were less like the two young murdered princes: that is, puppets. Ostermeier is a strong director, bringing to this ‘Richard III’ a powerful sense of play and great glee, seeded by Shakespeare himself in Richard’s attractiveness to audiences, but he also seems to control performances of the general cast in a somewhat puppet-master way – but check this out for yourself to see what works for you: there will be plenty that does!
Contains adult themes and nudity.