The tyrant as a childish spirit, defiant and following the first impulses, has already been performed as an interpretation in famous roles. Peter Ustinov as Nero or Charlie Chaplin as Hitler demonstrated in the film what the behavior of easily offended dictators could look like. Sometimes weepy, sometimes playful, a farce without reason, guided by short-sighted selfishness, since then some actors and actresses have played the role of insane heads of state. This idea of the spoiled, narcissistic child, who expands the stubbornness of his desires into a system of political success until everyone is afraid of him, is not the most intrusive manifestation of egomaniacal government in the current crisis.
The easily offended Mr. Erdoğan is sometimes reminiscent of a nursery despot, of course, the ridiculous blood brothers Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. But the real threats to people’s life and freedom, like Putin or Xi Jinping, Ebrahim Raisi, Assad or Min Aung Hlaing, you can’t really get close to by uncovering a possible comedy behind their brutality. That’s why Kristof Van Boven’s Macbeth, directed by Karin Henkel and now showing the evil end of the lust for power at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, isn’t really a contemporary commentary either, as one would expect from this currently frequently played piece – but rather entertainment through exaggeration.
The recalcitrant fidgety Philipp as a role model for the unscrupulous
In the new version by Henkel and her dramaturge Roland Koberg, shortened to just under two hours and thoroughly cleaned of Shakespeare’s language, the fidgety Philip becomes a model for the unscrupulous. Kristof Van Boven doesn’t shy away from the fussy and lets the rebellious little boy appear from the first moment. He whines and moans, quickly oscillating between cowardice and greed, uses his body artistically to give the Scottish nobleman, who murders a king in his castle, proof of incompetence in all facets. Nothing about this wild performance of “But I will” qualifies this man to govern.
His solo of disinterest in the demands of a responsible office is accompanied by two ladies and a girls’ choir with Mireille Mathieu wigs. One lady, Angelika Richter, directs the little regicide in a black skirt and combat boots to evil with severe admonitions. The other, Kate Strong, fulfills the role of the vulgar governess, who speaks taunts with many “fucks” in it. And the somewhat eerie children’s choir of well-trained girls speaks and sings the end of his story to Macbeth constantly.
Unfortunately, most of the time this whole childishness of sick ambition seems like an appendix of Henkel’s great Shakespearean adaptation, Richard the Kid & the King, to the Lina Beckmann as the hunchbacked assassin Richard received the award for Actress of the Year at the last performance in the Schauspielhaus. From parts of the cast and their quirks to the stage to staging details, this “Macbeth” produces déjà vus above all else. On a sloping black stage (by Katrin Brack) this time it’s not white ball lamps that go up and down, but garlands. The props again had to provide gaffer tape and sawed-off heads in plastic bags. And the actors who were cast in both productions sound so similar, as if not a year had passed between the premieres, but only a champagne break.
Van Boven also continues his role interpretation of the entire Lancaster family, which he gave in “Richard the Kid”, as an individual fate at the center of the production. There he had already lived out all aspects of an attention-seeking child, which he now unopposedly makes the sole subject of the production. This is often funny and virtuosic. Only at a time when everyone in the audience is quietly wondering where the male super-egos are taking the world and how to get rid of them is the reduction of the differentiated Macbeth character that Shakespeare put to paper at the end of the 16th century brought, on a comedy version of the Mad Dictator, but very poor in content.
And so this rather uninspired production, which towards the end becomes more and more anemic despite the high use of red paint, tells more of creative exhaustion, so it seems like an involuntary commentary on the present. The diagnosis of a society that is completely overwhelmed and only deals with self-presentation is not half as interesting as a serious attempt to explain the path from vassal to criminal would have been. Shakespeare could. But if you just use him as a cue, as so many do today under the “post-Shakespeare” label, the conversation seems as withered as the foliage that is supposed to herald Macbeth’s end in the final scene.