Guest performance at the Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
December 30, 2016
Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, first believed to be performed around 1593 and as it is often the case with villains, the title character’s allure lies first and foremost in his unbridled, single-minded, gleefully exhibited amorality, executing his revenge and acting out what most would love to but would never dare.
Having served his family on the battlefield of the War of Roses, Richard enabled his brother Edward to become king. Outcast and sidelined because of his hideous exterior, he masks his seething malevolence behind his hunchbacked deformities and grows to become a Machiavellian psychopath and masterful manipulator.
Cold bloodedly he slaughters his family, marries his victim’s widow and eventually betrays his allies, all in his enraged quest to become king to lord over a world he was never meant and denied to ever be a part of.
Triumphant in his pursuits and as the last man standing, he eventually has to face his true nemesis and the demons it is infested with, which takes all but a deep, hard look in the mirror.
Schauspielbühne Berlin was founded in 1962. It is known for its stylistic variety, the most prominent advocate of which is its superintendent Thomas Ostermeier, who formed the foundation of his tenure with the establishment of a permanent cast that is regularly extended by new appointments.
The Schaubuehne’s search for a contemporary and experimental theatre language informs Ostermeier’s daringly re-imagined approach to directing one of Shakespeare’s earlier works, which is based on a splanchnic production and an unorthodox translation of Shakespeare’s script into German:
Marius von Mayenburg tackled the challenge of simplifying Shahespeare’s complex and often convoluted thoughts by letting go of verse and rhyme and thereby focusing on the condensation of the meaning instead, making it intelligible and translating it into a contemporary, easy to understand plot while at times allowing moments that let the power of the original poetry shine through.
Mayenburg manages to find an experimental modern-day mode of communication that offers a different and easier access to Shakespeare’s original.
Going past the surface of the mise-en-scène, it is the seductive power and variable rhythm of the idiosyncratic language that gives this incarnation of Richard III. an edge and additional dimension, much more than just the pure evilness of the main protagonist.
This is intensified by Lars Eidinger portrayal of Richard III by addressing the audience directly, confiding in it, making it a partner in crime and thereby establishing a relationship that operates on a meta-level both above and below the actual play.
Mingling with the audience and either equipped with a costume that amplifies Richard’s deformations or confrontationally in the nude, he dominates the stage, a microphone in hand commenting on his lecherous exploits, ultimately coming to face and succumbing to his own demons.
It is because of his convincing delivery that it feels like a missed chance, when he breaks character at one point admitting to having forgotten his lines due to the impact of jetlag when he has to rely on the services of a prompter: Instead of explaining and admitting to the audience that he dried, it would have been a perfect opportunity to go off script and not break character.
Same goes for Eidinger dealing with audience members nonchalantly arriving 30 minutes late and causing disturbances to the performance -- a widespread phenomenon omnipresent among theatre audiences in wider China: It would have been an excellent opportunity to unleash a barrage of exaggerated insults Richard-style, instead of engaging in a chit-chat about traffic problems and thereby breaking character.
Ostermeier placed a drum kit on stage, and incorporates noisey guitar interludes that set a contemporary stage for Richard rock star qualities, which he revels in, microphone in hand, channeling his sinister alchemy to engage and form a bond with the audience. Eidinger takes them by the hand, makes them witnesses and accomplices, and has them follow him on his deprived path, all the while teasing and exploring man’s innermost abyss.
What makes his portrayal of Richard relatable is the borderline pornographic way he wears and licks his wounds, the exemplifications of how he has been mistreated and showing where his resentments and traumata stem from.
Combined with Marius von Mayenburg’s compelling dissection of the relationships between the characters and the creation of tragic-comical situations, especially towards the end when Richard becomes his own worst enemy, almost evokes a sense of empathy for the villain.
Photos by KAVV