The Unbelieable Tragedy of Richard III. A Comedy by Michael Niavarani

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Die unglaubliche Tragödie von Richard III.: Eine Komödie von Michael Niavarani

Seen September 17, 2014 at Globe Wien (Marx Halle)

Written by William Shakespeare, Michael Niavarani

Cast: Michael Niavarani, Hemma Clementi, Eva Maria Frank, Susanna Preissl, Pia Strauss, Stefan Altenhofer, Jakob Elsenwenger, Georg Leskovich, Bernhard Murg, Michael Pink, Oliver Rosskopf, Manuel Witting u.a.

Directed by Vicki Schubert

This is an English language review about a Shakespeare(ish) play performed partly in German, partly in Austrian dialect at The Globe. No, not that Globe. Confused yet? Welcome to my world.

What happens when one of Austria’s most beloved comedians suddenly discovers William Shakespeare? He and his manager build a version of the Globe stage (not as a thrust stage however) into Vienna’s historic Marx Halle (formerly Rinderhalle – beef hall – due to its past as part of a slaughterhouse and also Vienna’s first wrought iron building) and include an entire pub while they are at it. I never thought I’d sit in the middle of my home town, half-pint of London Pride in hand and watch Richard III as a comedy.

Michael Niavarani pulled a Blackadder using Shakespeare’s play as background for the shenanigans of two original characters; a cook in York’s army (Bernhard Murg) and a shoemaker (Michael Niavarani) who haven’t seen each other since their shared childhood, run into each other by chance on the battlefield and decide to stick together and try their luck at court displaying flexible allegiances.

Even for those who have never seen or read Richard III before, the distinction between Shakespeare’s characters and Niavarani’s original ones is made very clear in the difference of speech. While the former are using language you would expect watching the original play, the two old friends speak in Austrian (Viennese) dialect and mock the nobles for their parlance.

The actors playing the classic characters, especially Michael Pink in the titular role, are admirably straight men and women to the hilarious and over the top jesters that are William Forrest (probably named thusly in order to include the good old ‘run, Forrest’ joke) and Fredrick Dighton. Adding to the merry cast – most of whom play several characters – is a troupe of parcours and stunt artists called ‘ape connection’.

Just like in the aforementioned Blackadder, there is a lot of license in regards to the story of the original play, so even seasoned Shakespeare enthusiasts don’t really know what’s coming next. It’s bawdy and at times a bit disgusting, but always funny. Probably just like the audience at the original Globe would have wanted it.

The only negative thing about the whole thing was that the stage was built too low. There were seats where the groundlings would have been in The Globe and if something was happening on the floor of the stage, only the front rows and the ascending seats in the back could see it. We were in row 7 and sometimes couldn’t see what was going on despite neither of us being short.

Long story short: If you ever wondered what would happen if you gave CPR to a severed head, this play is for you.