Anyone who learned how to kill, the legitimate crime, in war does not get along well in peace. Soldiers, i.e. males, at least have a choice. You can behave – usual, but uninteresting for the theater. They can become dictators – see Shakespeare. You can set up Freikorps – see German history. You can shift the violence into private life. But what remains of a female fighting machine, especially in the time of the English Wars of the Roses? That’s what author Katja Brunner and director Pınar Karabulut ask in their Shakespeare adaptation “Richard Drei”. And they end up with it Theater Cologne a clever, tragi-comic direct hit.
While it’s trendy to play the role of villain Richard III. female, most recently Lina Beckmann played it at the Salzburg Festival. What is new and impressively logical, however, is why a woman, a soldier, furiously played by Yvon Jansen, sets in motion one of the greatest series of murders in the history of drama: the war had meant freedom for her, in Brunner’s new version, freedom from the constraints of a woman’s role : “I found the resolution of the difference between the idea of my gender and reality in the struggle, near and far,” lectures Jansen, who strolls up and down the edge of the stage in a steel-blue hybrid of dress and velvet trousers (costume: Claudia Irro).
After the bloodlust in the war, slipping into a woman’s role, serving, being sexually pleasing, caring for the family is an impertinence for her. Your only option: Richard becomes a super villain and seizes power! She sets in motion a machine of murder and intrigue that can no longer be stopped.
Contemporary history breaks into the theater without anyone having to say “Putin”.
The director of the evening, Pınar Karabulut, is in high demand. In 2020 she joined the artistic management team of the Munich Kammerspiele. In May, her evening “Like Lovers Do” was invited as one of the top ten productions at the Berlin Theatertreffen – a long overdue tribute to an artist who has been pleasantly stirring up the German-speaking theater scene for years. In Cologne, she shows great theatrical magic, not without breaking it ironically: curses are flanked by thunder and lightning, neon-colored, queer pop aesthetics prevail at court, Richard rushes through the Disney Castle backdrops by stage designer Michela Flück in a Wagnerian swan mobile. At the same time, Karabulut stages in a very approachable manner, doesn’t present her characters for all their comedy, lets them remain human, even if broken ones.
The eponymous heroine lies, cheats, seduces, mocks, murders and has people murdered until she succeeds in taking power, until she becomes queen, or “queen”, as Brunner poetically calls it. “Richard Drei” is the portrait of a power man out of control. Contemporary history breaks into the theater without anyone having to say “Putin”.
In her high-speed text, the Swiss author Katja Brunner, born in 1991, combines analytical sharpness with a passion for language piracy. This is reminiscent of Elfriede Jelinek and yet it is very unique. Likewise her art of firing off diagnoses of humanity going astray in micro-digressions from the torrent of speech. For example: “Stay with yourself, be patient!” Richard calls out to her brother and potential competitor Clarence (Lola Klamroth) as he is being taken away and thrown into the dungeon. Not only that Richard himself is behind the arrest. She also has the audacity to encourage her brother in the worst mindfulness talk. Staying “with yourself” locked up in the tower sums up the basic contradiction of the hip counselor philosophy: social constraints that torment people are ignored. Instead, a more positive mindset and individual posture optimization are recommended. Does it need to be said that Clarence didn’t survive the evening?
Yvon Jansen gives the murder story an almost outrageous lightness. With elegant mockery of court and tradition, she lures the audience to Richard’s side, flirts, threatens, blasphemes, rationalizes, triumphs. What it looks like inside is only indicated by the nightmarish film tableaux by video artist Susanne Steinmassl, which flank the action on stage. Here, portraits of nobles in oil painting aesthetics mutate into horror scenarios, for example when Richard bites off the bloody heads of children’s dolls.
“Richard Drei” shows what contemporary drama can be if it really wants to: ancient material that still captivates today; a team for which feminism and gender-fluid cast are as natural as thinking in hashtags and playing with the TikTok aesthetic; a language that confidently thinks and speaks all genders; a theater that dares to bring new, young drama onto the big stage; and a staging that brings together hysterical laughter and pain given the state of the world.