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Review: Richard III

Adelaide Festival

Lars Eidinger’s horrifying charisma as the Machiavellian Richard is the beating heart of this innovative, mesmerising and unmissable production, writes Rachael Mead.

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Prepare to be seduced by Shakespeare’s most malevolent hero when Lars Eidinger lopes onto the stage as an utterly compelling Richard III.

Director Thomas Ostermeier’s acclaimed reimagining of this play is exhilarating.

From the moment the world-renowned company of Schaubühne Berlin bursts on stage in an explosion of golden glitter, the theatre rocking with the pounding of drums, the audience is transfixed.

While all the elements of a superb production are present – the ominous industrial set by Jan Pappelbaum, elegant 1940s costuming by Florence von Gerkan, a powerful score performed live by drummer Thomas Witte, potent use of video imagery by Sébastien Dupouey and excellent performances by the entire ensemble cast – it is Eidinger’s horrifying charisma as the Machiavellian Richard that is the beating heart of this production.

The War of the Roses is over but there is no peace for Richard while his brother Edward is on the throne. Full of rage at the world which has rejected him as crippled and ugly, Richard schemes and manipulates, ruthlessly removing all who stand between him and the throne.

Wearing a leather rugby helmet on his head and hump harnessed to his back, Eidinger is absolutely magnetic he leers, croons, spits and jokes his monologues into an old-style microphone suspended from the ceiling. We can’t look away as his Richard gleefully indulges every murderous whim on his blood-soaked path to the throne.

Lars Eidinger and Jenny Konig in Richard III. Photo: Tony Lewis / Adelaide Festival

Lars Eidinger and Jenny Konig in Richard III. Photo: Tony Lewis / Adelaide Festival

This version of Shakespeare’s malevolent king is a Richard the Performer. He’s a stand-up comic and pantomime villain, a rapper and a hustler.

Even when he’s completely naked, this Richard is in no way vulnerable as he’s wrapped in whatever persona serves his current malignant purpose.

While this is a version of Richard that is mischievous and irresistible, charming and volatile, we are never asked for sympathy. The clever mix of cultural references with a streamlined version of the original Shakespeare amplifies the play’s exploration of cruelty and the consequences of combining sociopathic tendencies with power and the freedom to indulge them.

Performed in German with English surtitles – aside from a few comic interjections in English from Eidinger – the two-and-a-half-hour performance gradually slows from its frenetic opening pace to become increasingly hypnotic.

By the final scenes where Richard is tortured by ghostly visions of his victims and uttering the famed line “my kingdom for a horse”, the mask finally falls away. Richard is at war with himself and we see the consequences of his bloodthirsty actions catch up with him both physically and psychologically.

This is an innovative and utterly mesmerising retelling of Richard III by one of the most important theatre companies in the world. Don’t miss your chance.

A word of warning –  the two-and-a-half-hour performance is interval-free so allow enough time to queue for the facilities before taking your seat.

Richard III is showing at Her Majesty’s Theatre until March 9 as part of the Adelaide Festival.

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