Richard III | Schaubühne BerlinThe obvious question is, “Why should a translation of the magnificent words of the king of the English language be performed in any other language than its original to a predominantly English-speaking audience?” The answer is (a) because it’s part of a Festival and this is perfect festival fare; (b) because it is a full intercultural and international experience; and (c) because the superb writing of the immortal bard is so bullet-proof that whatever is done to it produces a completely edifying, uplifting and challenging experience of both theatre and the human condition.

From the very opening – a sparkling and glittering party, with very loud music on the sturdy industrial set with monochrome projections flashing about – it was clear that this was going to be different. But there is no denying that the intensity of the emotions: the villainy and the anger and the frustrations and the fears of the various protagonists were brilliantly portrayed, whatever the language.

Lars Eidinger is a superb Richard – a dominating figure, a suave persuader, and consummate deceiver, a vicious villain and a complete Dick. His loneliness is almost palpable in the early soliloquies. His physicality in his tortured solo mime of Richard’s final battle fills the stage. His smarmy, unctuous duplicity in persuading gullible adversaries of his righteousness is almost convincing, while his (literally) naked and manipulative villainy comes full circle to devour him in his lonely end. He tops this multifaceted portrayal with an appealing natural comedic sense which not only lightens the tension but also lends human appeal to his charisma.

My only disappointment was in the apparent lack of passion in Jenny Konig’s portrayal of Lady Anne: to my mind there was not enough aching rage in her confrontation of the murderer of her husband and father-in law, even though she finally had to succumb to the wheedling persuasiveness of this unprincipled rogue. 

One other actor in this brilliant troupe of 9 who deserves comment is the one who revels in delivering Queen Margaret’s superb stream of invective full of some of the most picturesque and colourful insults in all literature.

There is extra effort required to keep track of the action and the surtitles at the same time. A printed program and cast list might have helped. But there are neat devices in this production that help make the two and a half hours with no interval more manageable. 

There is continuity in the mostly black and white costumes. There is the deft use of the hanging microphone-cum-spotlight-cum-camera (for projecting onto the backdrop)-cum trapeze from which Richard’s defeated body finally dangles. The device of puppets for the poor helpless princes who are locked and murdered in the Tower is clever and apposite. The levels, ladders and poles of Jan Pappelbaum’s stark set were well used, even if the symbolism of the monochrome projected images it was bathed in was hard to fathom. Nevertheless, it is a masterful production, whatever the language.

So – Shakespeare in German? At the hands of this superb company, why not? Should you see it? Ja! Auf jedenFall!

Schaubühne Berlin
Richard III
by William Shakespeare

Director Thomas Ostermeier

Venue: Her Majesty's Theatre, 58 Grote Street Adelaide SA
Dates: 3 – 9 Mar 2017
Tickets: $99 – $30

Part of the 2017 Adelaide Festival


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