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.

Pearl Jam @Wiener Stadthalle

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Pictures (C) 2014 Pearl Jam

Seen: Wiener Stadthalle, Vienna June 25 2014

This entry is going to seem weird to those of you having read the blog so far and for good reason. I usually only write about theatre because that was the original idea and a completely personal thing. I work with movies and TV shows for a living, so this is not something that I am going to comment on.

I also don’t write about live music for two simple reasons: firstly I worked in the music industry for almost a decade, so I might have a skewered view and secondly, having been to a few hundred gigs before I even finished school, it is really hard to knock my socks off.

In this case, I decided to forego the socks right from the start, knowing they would never be found again anyway. Traditionally, the day after a Pearl Jam show is spent with a stupid smile on my face and no voice and it wasn’t any different this time. This is also the reason I decided to break with the usual topic of the blog. Some things just are too good to not be commented on.

Pearl Jam hadn’t been to Vienna since 2006 when one critic rightly remarked ‘the only one not pulling their weight today was the Stadthalle’. Sadly, even though everyone knows it is practically impossible to get a handle on the sound in this venue as soon as you open up the floor and stands completely, nothing is being done about it which caused Eddie Vedder to mention how much the band were looking forward to this gig only to start soundcheck and realise this was probably the second worst sounding venue they’d ever set foot in.

Nevertheless, the room was on fire as soon as the band came on stage and opened with ‘Long Road’, followed up by ‘Can’t Keep’ and ‘Black’ – which would have been held back by most bands for a big sing-along encore – after which EV deduced ‘this is going to be a great night’. And right he was.

Playing ‘Black’ right at the start like this is one of the things differentiating PJ from other bands. There is no fixed set list for an entire tour. Each one is decided on the day (they even stressed out one lucky fan by letting him do one a few years back) and is sometimes changed when things are already in full swing. Most bands can’t do any song requested at the drop of their hats – I have seen too many telepromters, lyric sheets and sheet music on stage to not appreciate them actually knowing their stuff – and still having fun being up there after all these years, swinging from light bulbs and making fun of each other.

Such a swap happened in Vienna this time: a fan in the front row wanted to hear ‘I Got Shit’, so they swapped it for the originally planned ‘I Am Mine’. I love ‘I Got Shit’, but unfortunately, this was the first time my friend to whom ‘I Am Mine’ means a lot saw the band live, so hearing this song would have been the cherry on top for her.

That’s the problem with a band that has such an extensive catalogue though; they could play for a few weeks straight going through all their albums and cover versions (we got a few of those too, ranging from The Beatles, Neil Young or PIL to The Who), and there would still be one missing that you would have liked to hear. I was quite in the mood for ‘Corduroy’ that night, but on the other hand I would probably have blown my voice completely had they played it. Apparently, I am just not built to sing along to 35 (nope, not a typo) songs in a row anymore ;-). I am really looking forward to re-experiencing this show once the official bootleg is released.

Another great thing about PJ: they respect their fans and listen to them (and are concerned about their safety as directing the crowd to move apart the following night at Wuhlheide in Berlin proves). This was the first time the Ten Club offered seats to those of their members for whom things on the floor have gotten too intense (like me) or are just not able to be down there for health reasons. The selection of ladies merch has also gotten better. We were there to pick up our tickets at 3PM and it was fun to see the vast amount of different shirts from all tours and continents trickling in.

There are always fans travelling to several shows, which definitely helps sweep along the audience in usually more reserved towns *cough*Vienna*cough* and it’s fun when everyone starts to mingle and talk while waiting at the 10C entrance or when the gents loo is declared unisex, because there are more for the gents as for the ladies (really, Stadthalle?!).

If I come off as a card carrying Ten Club member now, that’s because I am. I have been a Pearl Jam fan since ‘Alive’ was released and have yet to be let down by the band or my fellow fans.

I have witnessed forum members on their website pitching in when one of us fell on hard times, needed treatment or in the worst cases for funerals. On a way smaller scale, carpooling abroad or pulling out couches is not unheard of. All without the band’s involvement, just because that’s the kind of people that are attracted by them and what they are doing (part of the ticket sales go to the Vitology foundation btw). As my friend observed, ‘Wow, everyone here really likes each other.’.

If you have never seen Pearl Jam live but like that kind of music: do yourself a favour and try to get tickets. Just remember not to wear socks you are emotionally attached to, they will be knocked off.

In the meantime, have a song from their first Album ‘Ten’ (Black, shot by Blanch222) and the current one ‘Lightning Bolt’ (Sirens, shot by Shanti9) live in Vienna. The full set list is in the picture above.