RICHARD III   

THEATRE

The Lyceum

August 24 to 28.

1930

When a people is long inured to war there is a strong tendency to live for the moment, to party, to play, to fuck, to enjoy the pleasures that may soon be extinguished. The on-screen introduction here reminds us of the Wars of the Roses, of the decades of strife that have preceded the present peace under King Edward. But will this hold? So there are fireworks and dancing and giggles, and then Richard enters with his famous speech of resentment, and his determination to play the only hand that nature has allowed him, that of the villain.

This production of Shakespeare’s early play comes from the Schaubuhne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin, and is performed in German with surtitles. Richard is played by Lars Eidinger, in a commanding and athletic performance.  There are firsts here; I have not before seen Richard woo the widow of the man he has killed leaning naked across the coffin.  The strength of Eidinger’s performance does put the rest of the cast somewhat in the shade. We get something more like a study in abnormal psychology than a view of a society riven by crisis and threatened with collapse; both are parts of this story.

Robert Beyer as Margaret is perhaps the strongest of the women’s voices, which otherwise tend to be downplayed.  Moritz Gottwald as Buckingham begins by seeming like another of the plain-suited ciphers, but in the mock-piety scene where Richard is offered the throne he comes into his own and then shines.

I didn’t feel having the Princes  as puppets worked; their several handlers clutter the stage, and this prevents any involvement with them. Probably there are problems bringing boy actors abroad, but reversing the rules of Shakespeare’s time and having them played by young women might really add something.

We are told that it is an ambition of director Thomas Ostermeier to make us feel sympathy for Richard, having been repelled by him. This did not happen for me. Prior to the dream scene before his final battle we do not see any shades of doubt or self-criticism enough to make him less repellent. There has also been comic distancing. I have not before heard an audience titter and laugh at the murder of Clarence as happened here as the naked figure gurgles lengthily and more and more blood flows from beneath him. In the second half there was increasing laughter around me, as though the audience saw the show as a circus of horrors.

Then Richard has his dream of the ghosts of his victims and wakes to fight himself, his own demons, rather than his human enemies. It was a brave and good idea to write Richmond out altogether – he is a pious goody-goody written to please the Tudor monarch, his grand-daughter, but one or two anonymous figures actually opposing Richard would have added zest to this scene.

The move towards a reflective and sympathetic view of Richard happened much too late for me, and it did not take. His final situation, hung upside down, a Mussolini-esque caricature, seemed more like him getting his desserts. This was a memorable, dynamic and bold production, but it served to remind me that the play was written not so long after Titus Andronicus, and it is difficult to find in it the subtleties that would create the sympathetic effect Ostermeier desires.

Tony Challis