The iconoclastic German director has a habit of turning classics on their heads.

When Berlin’s Schaubühne Theater presented its critically acclaimed new production of Richard IIIat the 2016 Edinburgh Festival, Artistic Director Thomas Ostermeier had a beer in a pub on the other side of town after one of the performances.

“Coincidentally, I listened to a conversation of two men standing outside the pub having a cigarette, and one of them told the other one, ‘Listen, I just saw the most amazing Shakespeare in my life – and can you imagine? It was in German and it didn’t bother me at all!’ It was funny because he didn’t know I was the director,” says Ostermeier.

Director Thomas Ostermeier. Photo by Paolo Pellegrin.

Good job he wasn’t rude about the production then? “Well, I wouldn’t have told you the story if he was,” replies Ostermeier wryly.

Ostermeier tells the anecdote in the context of staging Shakespeare using surtitles, and whether English-speaking audiences respond any differently when they are seeing the Bard performed in another language.

“They might see it in a different way,” muses Ostermeier. “I myself love to watch the show with...