Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Peymann and Richard

Claus Peymann is one of Germany's greatest theatre directors. These days he is the Director of the Berliner Ensemble, a small company with its own house in the former eastern half of the German capital. From the late 1980s through to 2000 he was Director of the Burgtheater in Vienna, one of the most important and prestigious stages in the German-speaking world.

Peymann is widely regarded as a member of a dying breed of theatre director. In a theatre landscape increasingly populated by bland managerial types in directorial roles he is not afraid to be political, provocative and controversial.

Now in his early seventies, Peymann's most recent production - Shakespeare's Richard II - shows what a master he has become. This version of an older production opened at the Burgtheater on 9 January. It is a reworking and partial recasting of a production from the year 2000.

It is hard to imagine better theatre. This is gripping, exhilerating and enthralling drama. Michael Maartens in the title role was able to captivate his audience like a king speaking to his loyal subjects. He held the packed theatre in thrall. The rest of the star-studded cast was also of a consistently high standard.

But, of course, the evening really belonged to Peymann, the grand signeur. The piece is not overtly provocative for a modern audience and Peymann has eschewed superficial point scoring or cheap shots at contemporary politics. Instead, the production is tightly directed with a lean but not minimalist stage design. The text is allowed to speak for itself. Richard II is one of Peymann's favourite Shakspeares and the production does not get in the way of the play's clear and elemental drama.

Richard II is not a fashionable play. It is hard-core political theatre and an ideal vehicle for a director of Peymann's caliber. The only thing left to wish for is more directors of Klaus Peymann' ilk and fewer bland managers at our theatre companies.

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