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Red Hot Chilli Shakespeare

Richard III
by William Shakespeare
directed by Thomas Ostermeier
Schaubühne Berlin 
Adelaide Festival

In Thomas Ostermeier’s Richard III, the spirit of anarchy reigns supreme. One can easily think of Richard as a nihilistic figure, a rebel without a cause perhaps, in a constant state of discontentment. Enslaved by his atypical physicality, he has an insatiable need to antagonise and annihilate, but to what end, we can only speculate. It makes perfect sense then that Ostermeier’s production, for Schaubühne Berlin seen here at the Adelaide Festival, feels like punk, and his Richard, a rock god that is all flamboyant angst and tantalising danger. The show is spectacular, thrillingly visceral, and profoundly inventive, challenging our senses to discern new from old, making us wonder what it means to have seen it all before, and why it is that we must always have theatre that exists on the cutting edge.

The production is designed to perfection, giving every action on stage an irresistible sense of drama, keeping us captivated without a hint of anything ever being too flashy or distracting, even though it operates stridently on an extraordinary level of sensory extravagance. Jan Pappelbaum’s set is versatile and purposive without requiring a single moment of laborious conversion. Understated contraptions facilitate an endless sense of movement, all achieved with the greatest of elegance and efficiency. Visually sumptuous, eerily cool and atmospherically lit by Erich Schneider, along with Sébastien Dupouey’s video projections, provide the space with a dystopian air of foreboding, while imbuing a seductive glamour impossible to resist.

Leading man Lars Eidinger confronts us with a Richard that can only be described as blisteringly au courant, and dripping with sex. It is tempting to dismiss a star’s magnetism as somehow natural and an enigma, yet Eidinger redefines the concept of an actor inhabiting a role, with this interpretation of Shakespeare’s notorious freak of nature. It is a phenomenal level of comfort and familiarity that is on display, with actor and character completely melding with each other. We feel his rigorous mastery however can only see a singular existence on the stage, with no whiff of contrivance, no sign of a man putting on an act. Eidinger is fantastically theatrical and it never crosses our mind that he should only be pretending.

When the show comes to its inevitable tragic, gloomy end, we are forced into a shift in tone that must take place, in order that Richard’s unparalleled exuberance may be stripped away forever. Musicians Nils Ostendorf and Thomas Witte’s brilliant noises that had injected us with an almost orgiastic, bloody passion, are finally tamed, along with our mournful protagonist who must now cower to his fate. As he dies, we are left to lament the end of something unequivocally sensational. The final minutes may seem bitter in comparison, but there is probably no other authentic way that can conclude the story of our rambunctious king. Fortunately, as the poem goes, it is “not how did he die, but how did he live,” and even though there may be regret at his last breath, this Richard III leaves us only with unimaginable delight and breathtaking inspiration.

Suzy Wrong

photos | ©Tony Lewis

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