Review: Klein Zielen, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam

“En de ziel begreep dat dat kleine stukje genoeg was”

 

Completing a trilogy of Louis Couperus adaptations for Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Klein Zielen (Small Souls) is the kind of magisterial theatre on which reputations – such as Ivo van Hove’s – are sustained. Couperus is a Dutch writer with a kind of Rattigan-like status as his work is revived here and Klein Zielen is no exception, a study of a family living under the same roof but shattered by the neuroses and traumas of the past that haunt every moment of their existence. 
 
This is about as lo-fi as van Hove gets, just the one video insert betraying any technological leanings, recalling the stark intensity of A View From The Bridge. And here again, you see the razor precision that he instils in his company and the way they relate to each other, interact with each other. As they each move around the wide open space of the Rabozaal carpeted in a ginormous rug, so much is said about their relationships in the juxtapositions they create.

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Review: Uit het leven van marionetten, Rotterdamse Schouwburg

“In de stilte hoor je de waarheid”
 
In the name of maximising my time in the Netherlands, I’ve seen a fair few productions in Dutch without any linguistic assistance. Thursday night shows at the Stadschouwberg Amsterdam are regularly surtitled in English but I always want to see more. In the case of plays like Blood Wedding and The Maids, I’ve been able to get away with since I know them; with others, like A Bride in the Morning, it’s been more of a challenge. 
 
And so it was with Uit het leven van marionetten (From the life of the marionettes), the fifth Ingmar Bergman adaptation from Toneelgroep Amsterdam, helmed by film director Nanouk Leopold in her stage debut. I’d hoped to watch the film in advance but I couldn’t track it down in time and so went into the Schouwburg in Rotterdam armed with just a flimsy synopsis and an overwhelming admiration for a company that included the rather fab Eelco Smits.

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Review: Ibsenhuis, Stadsschouwberg Amsterdam

“Hollanders bouwen altijd in baksteen”

Simon Stone’s track-record with Ibsen is strong – his adaptation of The Wild Duck was extraordinarily powerful – and so despite my normal reservations with this playwright, I happily booked myself in for his Ibsen Huis (Ibsen House) for Toneelgroep Amsterdam. The play is a new piece of writing but one which takes minor characters from a range of the Norwegian’s dramas and puts them into their own new ensemble, set in the house that Solness built for Hilde Wangel in The Master Builder.
So over three generations, from the 60s to the current day, new cycles of Ibsen-esque family drama play out – lies and loneliness, isolation and infidelity, passion and pain, all the pain of loving and being loved. It’s a dizzying combination, literally so as Lizzie Clachan’s set spins on its axis, and as the shattered narrative is presented to us in fragments. Visually it is clever, especially as it allows for the smoothest of scene changes to be almost cinematically imposed as the focus slides from room to room.
A measure of emotional intimacy is lost this way but there’s also the kind of sterling ensemble we’ve come to expect from this company. Hans Kesting and Aus Greidanus Jr butting heads, Janni Goslinga and Celia Nufaar breaking aching hearts, Bart Slegers and Maria Kraakman extolling a unique kind of parental love. Stone’s writing ultimately lacks the kind of subtlety to compare to the original, this is very much Ibsen-redux, but nevertheless, it’s still quite thrilling to watch. More production pics here.
Running time 3 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Jan Versweyveld
Booking in rep

Production shots for Ibsen Huis

“Moeten we hier als op de Wallen in lingerie gaan zitten?”

Time pressures (and priorities) being what they are, when one is on holiday celebrating one’s birthday, my review of Simon Stone’s Ibsen Huis (Ibsen House) for Toneelgroep Amsterdam won’t be ready for a couple of days. So in the meantime, follow the lovely Hans Kesting’s gaze past the break and feast your eyes on some of the production photos from Jan Versweyveld.

(c) Henri Verhoef

Review: De Meiden, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam

“Alles terug”

The class struggle is an innate part of Jean Genet’s The Maids but the mark of many a good drama that has endured for several decades is its ability to handle new interpretations by the directors who seek to revive them. Jamie Lloyd refracted the play through the lens of American racial politics for his visually striking production at the Trafalgar Studios earlier this year and ever the iconoclast, Katie Mitchell, making her directorial debut at Toneelgroep Amsterdam, chooses to put a migrant labour spin on her more naturalistic version.
So sisters Claire and Solange here are middle-aged Polish women – underpaid, underappreciated and in at least one case, really quite ill – who have found work keeping house for Madame, or rather keeping her super-luxe apartment. The relationship is a complex one though as we see them passing the time by enacting and re-enacting the ritualistic murder of their employer, raging against the system in the only way that they can – in secret, in private, away from the eyes of a Western society that doesn’t really give a fuck when it is oppressing. 
Marieke Heebink and Chris Nietvelt, frequently switching between their native Dutch and Polish speech, are a compelling pair even through the dressed-down dowdiness of their pinnies and pulled-back hair. The richness of their fantasy life is compounded by the fabulousness of Madame’s wardrobe, glamorous in the extreme from its gowns to hairpieces (practical too with lots of Spanx in there). For when Madame arrives, it’s in the strikingly statuesque form of Thomas Cammaert and we see yet another wrinkle that Mitchell has introduced.
For the heightened femininity that they’re aping is now yet another step removed from them, as evidenced by the inelegant moment where Nietvelt’s Solange dons a rubber glove to untuck Cammaert’s Madame. There’s little overt exploration of the trans issues here, little subtlety too in the brazen ghastliness of the character, but it offers a fascinating reappraisal of the gender politics at stake, the roles that people adopt versus the roles that people are forced to take and just how far that distance is – the luxury of choice for the haves.
Chloe Lamford’s set encloses the action in a hyper-realistic space, intelligently lit by James Farncombe to give the re-enactment scenes the touch of shadowed fantasy they need. And Mitchell employs her slow motion technique at three key intervals, working for me better here than I’ve ever seen before, in the brutal hopelessness that accompanies the sisters’ despairing machinations. And if it is a little vague on the sexual identity side, De Meiden offers a searing individualistic take on the European migrant situation.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Jan VersweyveldBooking in rep until 27th May

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Review: De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam

“Samenleven met jou… maakt me minder eenzaam. Het is de enige mogelijkheid te vergeten dat we langzaam afsterven

Honestly, just look at the photos below, there are just no words to describe how stunning the creative vision of Ivo van Hove, Jan Versweyweld and the rest of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam crew is (co-producing here with Toneelhuis and the Ruhrtriënnale). At a point where I was a little worried that there might be a little van Hove overkill going on (London theatregoers currently have the choice of Hedda Gabler and/or Lazarus), De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan (The Things That Pass) served as the perfect reminder that only a fool would take him for granted in the stunning way that he brings theatre to life.

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Review: De Andere Stem, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam

“Ik ben misschien de enige die jou kan troosten, maar ik ben de laatste die je kan helpen

Jean Cocteau’s 1930 monologue La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice) has been a part of Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s repertoire for a few years now, though sadly I’ve not been able to fit it into any my trips there, What I could schedule though was De Andere Stem (The Other Voice), a response piece written by Ramsey Nasr and so I booked myself in, despite not actually having seen what it was responding to!

La Voix Humaine takes the form of a telephone call in which we hear an unnamed woman talk to an ex whom she is barely over, a relationship still invested with huge emotion and what Nasr does in De Andere Stem is to imagine the other side of the conversation, what kind of man could evoke such passion in someone, what might he have done. Directed by Ivo van Hove, it is ferociously intense, very much of a piece with Song From Far Away which played at the Young Vic last year.

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Review: 42nd Street, Théâtre du Châtelet

“Musical comedy — the most glorious words in the English language!”

It may be in the English language but this production of 42nd Street is in a French theatre, the glorious Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris which, under Jean-Luc Choplin’s artistic directorship, has arguably entirely reshaped the Parisian relationship with musical theatre. He’s brought Sondheim there for the first time in a big way (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods) and has staged a number of classic Broadway musicals like An American in Paris (soon to open in London after its New York transfer) and last year’s Singin’ in the Rain.
42nd Street actually marks Choplin’s final show here, as the theatre will soon shutter for a couple of years to undergo major renovations, and Stephen Mear’s production certainly has the visual flair of a fitting finale. With a company of over 40, the tap-dancing routines are a absolute vision, a joyously heart-swelling parade of well-drilled precision, the likes of which we see so rarely these days even in the biggest shows. Combined with dazzling visual effects and gorgeous costumes courtesy of Peter McKintosh, the lavish aesthetic is an absolute treat.
But there’s no hiding from the fact that Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book, from Bradford Ropes’ novel, is paper thin, lacking real humour or grit in its script or any real sophistication in its plotting. Set during the Depression, director Julian Marsh is launching his new show Pretty Lady and when his leading lady breaks her ankle just before opening night, will inexperienced chorus girl Peggy be able to step in and save the day? It’s all rather hackneyed and lacking in any kind of suspense, more of a problem than one might expect with a classic.
Played entirely straight as it is here, 42nd Street just lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. An ironic edge might bring some humour, more earnestness might bring it real heart (although that’s questionable) and so it never catches fire as often as one feels it might. Monique Young’s Peggy sings and dances well without blossoming into the star she needs to be, Ria Jones and Alexander Hanson both play it a little too safe with their stagey characters, only Dan Burton of the leads really lives up to the star billing and Jennie Dale’s writer is a rare supporting character who stands out.
Musical director Gareth Valentine ensures his orchestra sound never less than superlative and even if you’re not buying the story, then the visual impact of Mears and McKintosh’s work is always on hand to bring the wow factor. With London getting its own production of the show next year though, directed by Bramble no less, I’d struggle to recommend making a trip especially to see this particular version, even with choreography delivered as well as this.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Marie-Noelle Robert 
Booking until 8th January

Review: Husbands and Wives, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam

“We don’t want to make a big thing about it”


Well it had to happen didn’t it, a less than stellar piece of theatre in my revered Stadschouwburg in Amsterdam, but I take comfort from the fact that it wasn’t Ivo directing… Instead it was Simon Stone returning to Toneelgroep Amsterdam after his scorching Medea in 2014, to present a version of Woody Allen’s 1992 film Husband and Wives. I say a version, it’s actually extraordinarily faithful to the film, to its detriment.


For though it is huge fun to see members of the Toneelgroep ensemble cutting loose on comedy for the first time, Allen’s story doesn’t contain too much real insight into love and marriage in the twentieth century, never mind the twenty-first, and so cleaving as close to it as Rik van den Bos’ adaptation does, it’s hard not to see Husbands and Wives as a perplexing choice, both for the company and the director.


As I’ve come to expect, the peformance level was ace – Halina Reijn and Ramsey Nasr doing battle as Judy and Gabe (the roles played by Mia Farrow and Allen in the film), Marieke Heebink and Gijs Scholten van Aschat as the separating Sally and Jack, but its all rather insubstantial in the wider context of the production. And if it had just been at the Lyttelton it wouldn’t have been such a problem, but having gone to Amsterdam especially for this…

Review: Glazen Speelgoed, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam

“Ik vind het beangstigend hoe ze zomaar wat leeft”

Marking Sam Gold’s directorial debut outside of his native US, Glazen Speelgoed sees him do wonderful things to Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie with Toneelgroep Amsterdam, the Dutch company proving a perfect match for this striking reinterpretation. Released from the tyranny of the Southern accent (at least, I don’t think their Flemish was accented…) and though placed into a loosely contemporary setting, the production achieves a similar kind of timelessness to van Hove’s A View From The Bridge, the original recast and refreshed, new angles and facets accentuated in the glass. 

Above all, the Wingfields have never felt so real, the family dynamic centred on Laura’s disability and her need for frequent physiotherapy. The ritual of massages and stretches reinforces the bond between mother-daughter-son, the intense feeling between them, but also the drudgery of their lives and the straitened circumstances in which they get by. Amanda’s need for gentlemen callers to propose to her daughter thus becomes a desperate strategy for financial security, the oppressive weight on Tom’s shoulders as the sole wage-earner in the household that much more powerfully felt.

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