Theatre review: Richard III

Lars Eidinger plays Richard, Jenny Konig also appears.
Lars Eidinger plays Richard, Jenny Konig also appears.
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In all the 70 year history of the Edinburgh International Festival, I doubt if there can have been more than a handful of performances as strange, compelling and utterly charismatic as Lars Eidinger’s magnificent reimagining of Richard III, in this acclaimed 2015 production by Thomas Ostermeier and his Berlin Schaubuhne Company.

Star rating: ****
Venue: Lyceum Theatre

A tall, lanky figure in the kind of mediaeval leather helmet once worn by epilepsy sufferers for protection during falls, this Richard lopes the stage with a twisted athleticism that is infinitely horrifying and watchable; and his agility is not only physical. He leers, he jokes, he seduces, he croons his thoughts into an old-style radio microphone, and he constantly seeks to make the audience complicit in his gleeful exercise of cunning and villainy. The performance draws on cultural influences ranging from the Vice figure in mediaeval morality plays, through 21st century rappers and stand-up comics, to demonic film characters like The Joker; and the result is a Richard III that brings our cultural past, present and future crashing together.

Eidinger’s performance comes at the heart of a superb Schaubuhne production that features an ominous burnt-metal set by Jan Pappelbaum, a magnificent mash-up metallic score partly delivered live by drummer Thomas Witte, some mighty video imagery by Sebastien Dupouey, and a blazingly gifted nine-strong acting ensemble. Eidinger’s Richard, though, knows that he is the great gambler among them, the one who will always act out the unthinkable. By the time he asks the audience to join him in the ultimate humiliation of his sometime ally Buckingham, we know he has reached too far. Yet there are still some who – for the hell of it – are prepared to shout vulgar abuse at a broken man; and despite the odd lapse of pace and concentration towards the end, it’s that impulse of cruelty that this superb production tracks down, analyses and pursues, to the last.

Until 28 August. Today 7:30pm.