Will travel for good theatre

The culture: ‘Richard III’ by William Shakespeare and ‘Die Mutter’ by Bertolt Brecht, Schaubühne, Berlin

The cheap seats: €9 stalls ticket (student rate) in the Berlin Globe, €7.50 Studio seats (half price for Theatre Day)

I’ve seen plenty of international theatre in my time but always from the comfort of my own city. While I often have museums and art galleries at the top of my tourist to-do lists when I go abroad, I’d never visited the theatre in a foreign country until last week.

I planned my entire trip to Berlin around Thomas Ostermeier’s Richard III, a production of Shakespeare’s history play that I’ve been desperate to see since Ben Fowler spoke about the Schaubühne’s Shakespeare in a lecture at the Globe theatre. Tickets were pretty hard to get hold of, involving a lot of patience with a difficult German website on the first day of the month. Having failed to nab seats in January or February, I finally got lucky with some brilliant seats in March. It was worth the wait.

Richard III opens with loud music, a live drum beat, beautifully dressed people popping champagne and plenty of confetti canons. There’s a lot to like about this production, including a great cast (particularly Christoph Gawenda, a highlight of the Enemy of the People that visited the Barbican last year), some creepy puppet princes, and a spectacular death scene with a horrible amount of blood seeping into sand and mingling with glitter. Really, though, it’s all about Lars Eidinger, whose Richard is determined to make the play a one-man show.

Pigeon-toed and childish, like a German Jack Whitehall approaching middle age but still trying to shake off daddy issues and his huge ego, Eidinger’s crippled King hobbles about the stage with a club foot made out of black tape and a hump strapped to his shoulder. He’s utterly vulgar. Several scenes involve his favourite dish – “potatoes and soft cheese” – and he ends up with it smeared all over his face like a dairy death mask. He’s also hilarious, refusing to collaborate with the English subtitles and ad-libbing with a playful brand of anarchy, then suddenly heartbreaking and deadly serious. He delivers monologues into a hanging light-up mic with a camera like a comedian crossed with a terrifying angler fish. The production is almost three hours without an interval but it flies by, climaxing in a powerful final tableau. I must confess that I dozed off for a few minutes in the first half hour (a reflection of my early flight and a day of exploring, not of the production itself) but Ostermeier’s Richard III was one of the most exciting Shakespeares I’ve seen recently. On April 1 you will probably find me furiously refreshing my browser trying to secure tickets to the much raved about Hamlet, also starring Eidinger.

Since I was flying all the way to Berlin for a play, I decided to make a holiday of it and to catch another production at the Schaubühne while I was there. Performed in the theatre’s small studio space across the road, I almost missed the beginning after a mix up involving an eager ticket-ripping steward and my own inexcusably bad German. Safe in my seat, however, I was treated to a surprisingly enjoyable rendition of Brecht’s Die Mutter, an overtly political piece made palatable by the addition of plenty of live music, a fantastic young cast, and added scenes including one where the actor playing young revolutionary Pavel dons a glitzy gold cape and lectures on theatre as a capitalist venture before doing a little rap and the German equivalent of “I say Capital, you say ism! Capital! Ism! Capital! Ism!” I struggled a bit without subtitles, but enjoyed the Schaubühne’s trademark playful alternative style nonetheless.

 

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