Thomas Ostermeier’s inventive Richard III made its US debut at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival this month. Even in German with English ad-libs, this is Shakespeare through and through.
“You missed the big speech!”, exclaimed Lars Eidinger’s Richard III to a latecomer taking his seat. “It was at the beginning, not like ‘To Be or Not to Be’.” Shakespeare’s most delicious villain always breaks the fourth wall, but Eidinger was going off book, in English, in the middle of a German production. In director Thomas Ostermeier’s hands, translating Shakespeare’s text into German frees him from rigid adherence to Shakespeare’s words, giving the actors licence to play. If this Richard can and will say anything, we never know what he’ll do next, even if we know what Shakespeare has written. We are as blindsided by Richard’s actions and whims as the people around him.This Richard doesn’t just break the fourth wall — he plays to the audience, persuading us to think like he does.Click To Tweet
Ostermeier’s production opens not with Richard delivering the “big speech”, but with a decadent, orgiastic party, complete with confetti and rock music. Richard is the last character to reach the stage, trailing behind his brothers in their procession down the aisle. It’s a key insight into Richard’s character: he appears to be following, when in fact he’s in everyone’s blind spot. They can’t see past that limp and hunched back that slows him down just a little, but he is literally staying behind their backs. Only once the celebrations have calmed down does Eidinger whisper “Now is the winter of our discontent” into a microphone dangling from the ceiling, as if he’s the emcee of Cabaret.