Richard zwo (Jan Bülow) is big bang, but everyone knows: he is only weak, stupid, naughty. © APA/Marcella Ruiz Cruz

The times are long gone when medieval kings and their entourage were given (serious) crowns, flowing cloaks, armor and swords, in short, the symbols of their power and dignity. However, it is not dignified, as was slaughtered in the English “Wars of the Roses”, how power was only accompanied by violence and blood. Dutch director Johan Simons is now taking a contemporary look at the Burgtheater in Vienna.

With “Richard II.” He has chosen the most unpopular piece of Shakespeare’s “Royal Dramas”, because young Richard is a king nobody likes. Too incapable of his office, too weak, too stupid too. From the very beginning you know in this staging of bars and everyday costumes that it won’t last long. Jan Bülow also plays him as an unsteady, naughty, restless boy who cannot expect any sympathy from the audience.

A strange Henry Bolingbroke stands across from him, later as King Henry IV the successor of the overwhelmed, whom he so unceremoniously disempowered. Two and a quarter hours of non-stop play are still there. There is Sarah Viktoria Frick, a small, blonde woman with a lion face, and she has to make it clear that she is a tough man, an unscrupulous personality, born to rule. No, it doesn’t really work, and you can’t really argue the “turn” of the sexes as it has become common on our stages.

For such a nasty power game as William Shakespeare has delivered here, the staging also seems too soft, despite occasional outbreaks here and there, too diffuse, despite occasional focus on a person and a problem. Partly also linguistically imprecise, a lot falls by the wayside.

The audience for this premiere was anything but complete and donated – by far not as packed as it would have been possible in view of the presentation – just the courtesy applause.

From Renate Wagner

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