Thomas Ostermeier’s production of Richard III, originally performed at the Schaubuhne last year, is an explosion of a show. It opens with an exhilarating sequence in which the cast pours on to the stage as glitter cascades from the ceiling and the theatre is filled with the thunder of drums.
In the middle of all this, Lars Eidinger’s Richard stands apart, humped and contorted, with a leather head-brace and one outsized shoe, Eidinger is a mischievous and magnetic presence, both wicked and divine, charming, volatile, a human firework and a true frontman, master of his own ceremony.
He spits his lines into a microphone that’s been suspended from the ceiling (it also contains a camera allowing for some up-nostril Blair Witch Project shots). He breaks into song. He bellows and cackles. His performance feels thrillingly unpredictable. At one point he even pounces on a person in the audience he suspects of being asleep. He’s also very funny. Richard the jester. Richard the clown. He has a kind of malevolent Rik Mayall energy. He glories in the comedy of the play.
While Ostermeier’s production is about Richard as a performer, it’s also about the performance of Richard. He has Eidinger strip naked so we can see the padding under his cloths. But his nakedness in no way makes him vulnerable, the opposite in fact. The young princes here are two slightly uncanny bunraku puppets. The theatre of monarchy.
Much of the music is played live by drummer Thomas Witte, sitting up in one of the boxes. Jan Pappelbaum’s set, with its gantries and staircases, has a floor covered with sand, which becomes increasingly tainted, with blood, wine, saliva, glitter and sour cream (Richard has a habit of hurling his food around).
The drowning of Clarence is properly shocking – he writhes on the ground, frothing and spluttering, as the wine seems to leek from his naked body, like life. For his coronation, Richard dons a corset and a neck brace, and slathers his face in white make-up, like a fetish club Gloriana.
Performed in German for the most part, using a streamlined version of the text by Marius van Mayenberg, it’s also a pretty unrelenting production, running to more than two and half hours without an interval. What’s missing is the complexity and nuance of the relationships between the characters.
Eidinger’s such a force that in the rare moments he’s off-stage, the production sags noticeably. He even fights his climactic battle alone, racing around the two-level set, parrying with empty air. Boisterous, wilful, ridiculous, occasionally brilliant, frequently frustrating, this is a roaring Richard.