What did this production not endure? Ten months ago it would have been on the Burgtheater’s repertoire, as the first new production it fell victim to the second corona lockdown. This was followed by a preview in front of 100 people in the “Vorarlberg model region” in April and a live stream shortly before the opening in May. Now Shakespeare’s royal drama “Richard II.” in the production of the Dutch director Johan Simons finally came to the regular premiere in the Burgtheater.
His young star Jan Bülow, known as the up-and-coming Udo Lindenberg from the film biography, is still quite young: at the age of 25, he has given the title role with the restraint that is appropriate for her.
Unlike his hunchbacked successor with the number III, the two-man Richard is an unsteady character, a poor leadership king who landed on the throne at the age of eleven and would have liked to rule properly, but always made the wrong decisions. In his one-piece suit, which is full of pockets (costumes: Greta Goiris), the tall Bülow looks as if his mommy had put him in there. He speaks fluting coquettishly, often a bit too softly, pitying himself and practically resigning himself at the first opportunity when his cousin Heinrich Bolingbroke tries to wrest power from him. The anything but virtuoso presentation proves to be conclusive.
In connection with Johan Simons’ democratic acting, under which the whole ensemble is always present, it also causes others to get some of the spotlight (this comes from a single, very bright lamp that shines from the stage ramp to the rear). Stacyian Jackson as Queen Isabel tends and caresses her husband (just as if she were the mother who chose the said clothes for him), but looks just as out of place on the parquet of power as he does, even if she has significantly more energy and ultimately gallows humor shows.
Sarah Viktoria Frick is Heinrich Bolingbroke: like a trumpesque-defiant child, he fights for the crown from Richard and resents when Richard’s abdication is voluntary, but not ceremonially submissive enough. The advisory team changes sides due to a lack of backbone: Oliver Nägele, Sabine Haupt and Bardo Böhlefeld as the York family are grinning to watch.
Shakespeare wrote “Richard II.” in the last years of the 16th century, around the same time as “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It’s not the typical royal drama: Bloody executions and plans for revenge are kept within limits, but there is a lot of reflection and criticism, as precise as it is unspectacular. The translation by the German writer Thomas Brasch, which Claus Peymann used for his production with Michael Maertens in 2000, gives the text something timeless, yet lyrical, and Martin Schwab, as Gaunt’s old mentor, is sometimes even allowed to rhyme.
So the plot can be followed well, but it only becomes interesting after half of the non-stop two hours, when everyone has arrived where they will be at the end and can play out their psychological games. Richard is moping up like a hangover, Bolingbroke henchman Northumberland (Johannes Zirner) lets the tough dog out and his son Percy (Lukas Haas) overzealous tries to gain the favor of the new king by murdering the old one in the Tower – in the original does another character who was merged with Percy here. In any case, things go wrong, in Henry IV the statesman awakens, he condemns the assassination and announces that he will repent. So in the end the survivors stand there anxiously and look uncomfortably with their heads held high ahead when the light goes out.
Similar to the Bochum Shakespeare staging 2019 invited to the Berlin Theatertreffen for “Hamlet”, Johannes Schütz has lowered the stage for the central events such as a battle arena or an empty swimming pool opposite the edges. Behind it stands a chair for each ensemble member to watch and be seen. At the front in the middle, a stylized royal house quickly breaks down into its individual parts. The players move these several times during the evening, put them around as obstacles or line them up to form a trellis for royal walk-in. These conversions could be carried out more quickly, they inhibit the otherwise fluid flow of the staging. The resulting pictures are nice to look at, the symbolism of the stage modules is clear. They can be read as thrones with a very high back, of which only the frame is left: where the backbone would be, there is a gap.
This consistent gathering of weaklings in one piece defies respect. It doesn’t make for an exciting evening at the theater, but rather material for the fine blade. It is advisable to prick up your ears and, if possible, sit in front.