Printable CopyRICHARD III
The Adelaide Festival
Her Majesty’s Theatre
Until 09 Mar 2017

Review by Jamie Wright

The rise and fall of Richard III is not perhaps as entrenched in the public consciousness as, say, the tribulations of the prince of Denmark or tragedy that befell those star-crossed lovers in Verona. But, given that the unearthing of what were determined to be the remains of the late king buried under the asphalt in a Leicester car park made worldwide news, he is certainly no stranger either. And of course there are always political figures who can be likened to the hunchbacked usurper…

In this remarkable production brought from Germany by the world-famous Schaubühne Berlin theatre company and directed by Thomas Ostermeier, the story of Richard’s manipulation of those around him to rise from Duke of Gloucester to the throne of England through cunning political machinations and cold, calculating betrayal involves modern dress, thumping electronic music, a live percussionist, animated projections and puppetry.

There are many cuts to the text, many of them surprising – at least compared to other productions. Somewhat strangely, the eventually victorious Richmond (later Henry VII) does not appear. Others, like Cecily the Queen Mother, are cut as well; overall there is much less attention paid to the women, though Queen Margaret is present to curse those who murdered her husband and son.

These choices place even more focus on Richard, who is almost never off stage. At times these cuts seem made to quicken the plot, but at other times long segments of dialogue remain, like when the Lord Mayor of London visits and Richard feigns a lack of interest in taking the crown. The drop in pacing is significant.

But when all cylinders are firing it’s almost an assault on the senses. The lighting (by Erich Schneider) is exceptional; Anne’s first appearance is so well arranged she almost materialises out of thin air. The set – a two-level façade with stairs, ladders and even a pole for rapid descents – overlooks a gently raked semicircular stage, quickly revealed to be packed with sand. Costumes (designed by Florence von Gerkan) are exquisite.

Lars Eldinger is a stunning Richard, shifting from bitter at being an outsider to gracious to conniving to conciliatory to completely unhinged; he begins in simpler clothes before donning suits and eventually presenting as what can be best described as the white-faced fusion of Frank-N-Furter and Quasimodo. With a neckbrace. He breaks the fourth wall constantly, coaxing reactions from the crowd and – with the help of the surtitles – convincing them to join in the mocking of Buckingham. Oh, and he also raps.

The other roles are shared amongst eight performers, all of whom are excellent. The multiple portrayals are exceptional – great costumes, wigs, masks and a fat suit do help, of course. In an interesting move the two princes who meet their end in the tower are played by life-sized puppets, controlled by the other cast members; this scene is one of the highlights as the two talk, bicker and scuffle.

They puppets return later to haunt Richard and we’re provided with closeups courtesy of the camera within the dangling microphone Richard frequently uses for effect throughout. This is another of the truly stunning scenes; the ghosts of those whose death he orchestrated returning to haunt Richard on the eve of his battle is rendered even more powerful with the projected video to distort the faces – and (it must be said) that their ill wishes sound even more menacing spoken in German.

The story concludes in very different way from other productions, but it’s a change that reinforces exactly who Richard is, and where his choices have led him.

This is a truly spectacular production, unlike any other.