RICHARD III - ADELAIDE
RICHARD III, Schaubühne Theater at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide Festival, 6-9 March 2017. Photography by Tony Lewis - above and below - Lars Eidinger and company
Few who saw Schaubühne Theater’s Hamlet at the Sydney Festival in 2010 will have forgotten Lars Eidinger’s transgressive brat prince under the direction of Thomas Ostermeier. Well, they’re back – exclusively to Adelaide this time – with an even brattier Richard III.
It’s fortunate for this celebrated Berlin company that few in the festival audiences will have seen Bell Shakespeare Company’s new production, Richard 3, with Kate Mulvany as the king (opened in Sydney last week and touring to Canberra and Melbourne). Fortunate because Mulvany and director Peter Evans have done to one’s approach to the play and appreciation of the role something that should henceforth be termed “BK” and “AK” – before and after Kate.
And it’s quickly obvious that this Richard III is BK. Eidinger and Ostermeier have, despite arriving with bagsful of critical puffery from O/S about how amazing and thrilling it is, actually presented a traditional, blokey and predictable Richard who is about as interesting as that sounds.
The play opens on a tall, gloomy two-level set with a tapestry carpet-draped single entrance/exit (Jan Pappelbaum, lighting Erich Schneider). It contrasts steep stairs and a vertical ladder with a fireman-style pole for a quick descent and the cast makes full use of its possibilities. The royal court is in party mood – lots of glitter and party poppers and thumping tough dance music, amplified to the max with a live drummer (Thomas Witte) at the foot of the stage (composer Nils Ostendorf).
Richard prowls among chic B&W-clad revellers, in the gathering but not of it. His plain white t-shirt covers a conventional hunchback prosthesis and he wears one oversize old-fashioned clown boot. It is the winter of his discontent and he snarls his lines into a vintage-style microphone elastically suspended above the stage that he grabs from time to time. English surtitles sit front and centre and high up, unobtrusive and useful to keep up with the high rate of murder and mayhem.
That’s about as good as it gets. Over two hours and 40 minutes without interval Ostermeier relentlessly sends up the role, the play and the audience in a display of merry contempt that is only paralleled by his Hamlet. It’s amazing and when he slaps the helpless Buckingham in the face with chocolate mousse and yells at him, “ You look like shit. Have you eaten pussy yet today?” It becomes more than jokey scorn when he forces the audience to take up the chant: a perfect example of how bullying works.
The archaic feel of the production is further underlined when the electronic loop of “O-O-O-O-O-O-O...” finally transitions into a fragment of “O Superman”, Laurie Anderson’s 1981 hit. It’s another curiosity in a curious evening. Dominated as it is – and, frankly, not in a good way, (see the review of Bell’s Richard 3) by the self-indulgent performance of Ostermeier, it’s not easy for the rest of the company to get a significant look in.
The overall sense of a bloke-fest is creakily emphasised by having Margaret played by Robert Beyer, albeit in long black skirts. He’s excellent in the role, but hey – so is Sandy Gore in Sydney. Are there no mature actresses in Germany? What’s the point? Among the rest of the cast, Eva Meckbach holds her own as Elizabeth as do Thomas Bading, Jenny Konig, Moritz Gottwald, Christoph Gawenda, Laurenz Laufenberg and David Ruland. It’s a handsome show, but...anachronistic, antiquated and I’m over being spat at and bullied by a big boofy bloke in the name of acting. It’s so not clever, or interesting and punk carked in the 70s for really good reasons.