Review: De Kersentuin, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam

Of course a British director doing Tsjechov in the Netherlands makes The Cherry Orchard as watchable as it has ever been – Internationaal Theater Amsterdam’s De Kersentuin proves a real success

“Als ie echt verkocht moet worden verkoop mij er dan bij”

It’s not often that Jimi Hendrix and Creedence Clearwater Revival make their way into Chekhov but it is precisely this kind of refreshing approach that makes this production feel so alive in a way that is rarely achieved (in the UK at least). So it is somewhat perverse that it is a British director responsible, as Simon McBurney directs Internationaal Theater Amsterdam in De Kersentuin, in an adaptation by Robert Icke.

Shifted to the Netherlands in the 1970s, a real sense of liberation permeates the production, and crucial details shine anew to substantively alter the emotional palette. I’ve never felt the presence of Amanda’s drowned son so strongly, which really makes you consider her feelings towards her former home. And as Miriam Buether’s design discards conventional representation, the focus falls as much on the relations of people as it does on property. Continue reading “Review: De Kersentuin, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam”

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. Continue reading “Review: Klein Zielen, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam”

Notes on a second viewing of Roman Tragedies

“I arm myself with patience and await the higher powers”

Whilst sitting in the audience for Roman Tragedies on Friday night and before it had even finished, I took advantage of the free wifi and booked myself into Sunday’s show, knowing I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see this most extraordinary of shows again. And instead of writing another review in which I’d just end up repeating myself, I thought I’d just jot down some of the thoughts that came to me both whilst rewatching and on reflection afterwards. Continue reading “Notes on a second viewing of Roman Tragedies”

Review: Roman Tragedies, Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

“A people who can neither rule nor be ruled”

8 years ago, I’d barely started to blog, I didn’t know who Ivo van Hove was, Andrew Haydon didn’t know who I was, it was an altogether simpler time. And I’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly what it was that made me click on the Barbican’s website to book for a 6 hour long Shakespearean epic in Dutch but I’m glad I did, for it genuinely changed the world for me (in terms of my theatrical life anyway, who knew I’d start going to Amsterdam regularly for theatre!). I ranked the show as the best of the year for me back then in 2009 and I have to say I still think it is the greatest piece of theatre I’ve ever seen.

So going back for seconds was always going to be a risk but it was also something I knew I’d never be able to resist. Not least because in the intervening period, van Hove has become one of the most famous, and arguably influential, directors around. His take on A View From The Bridge was the breakthrough moment but for me, it has been his work with Toneelgroep Amsterdam that has consistently been the most revelatory – Kings of War and Scenes from a Marriage both at the Barbican, Long Day’s Journey into Night and the breathtaking Maria Stuart at the gorgeous Stadsschouwburg. Continue reading “Review: Roman Tragedies, Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican”

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.  Continue reading “Review: De Meiden, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam”

Review: Kings of War, Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

“I did not yet know the value of the throne”

It’s well over six years now since Toneelgroep Amsterdam blew open my tiny little mind with their Roman Tragedies. Back at a time when this blog was in its infancy, back when I ‘only’ saw something like 10 shows a month, back when making the decision to see a six-hour-long Shakespearean epic in Dutch was something surprising. Nowadays of course it is second nature, I regularly visit Amsterdam to see this extraordinary company work and I’ve been to New York to see director Ivo van Hove cast his magic on Broadway too in The Crucible. But it is nice to only have to go to the Barbican to see them too and at just the four and a half hours, Kings of War is practically an amuse-bouche!

My spoiler-free review from Amsterdam is here but so much more resonated with me second time around, so we’re going deeper here folks. As with the significantly worthier The Wars of the Roses (more than twice as long in toto, less than half as good), the impetus for the storytelling comes from merging Shakespeare’s first history cycle, only van Hove goes one further and includes Henry V (and arguably a smidgen of Henry IV Part 2 too). So the overarching narrative becomes one of power – the violence of seizing it, the realities of maintaining it, the struggle to keep it – as played out over and over again in this vicious cycle of dynastic tussles.  Continue reading “Review: Kings of War, Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican”

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.

Continue reading “Review: Glazen Speelgoed, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam”

Review: Kings of War, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam

“En, denk je dat je veilig bent? De veiligheid van een rillend lam door wolven omringd?”

It’s instructive to look at how we (the British) look at Shakespeare compared to them (the Europeans), especially with rival treatments of the first tetralogy on the horizon. Whereas Trevor Nunn’s answer to the perceived issues of the Henry VI plays is to return to John Barton and Peter Hall’s adaptation from the 60s which adapted them, alongside Richard III, but still into three full-length plays. And then we have Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Kings of War, in which Ivo van Hove adds Henry V into the mix, and still manages to be done in an evening (albeit 4 and a half hours later…!)

We’ll see how The Wars of the Roses pans out when it hits the Rose, Kingston in the autumn but Kings of War is alive and kicking at the Stadschouwburg in Amsterdam now and for sheer innovative thinking and intelligent reworking, it’s hard to see how returning to the RSC of the 60s will compare in any sense of the word. Liberated from any notion of textual fidelity or theatrical tradition (in terms of how Shakespeare ‘ought’ to be done, I mean), van Hove and his company infuse something genuinely new into the drama, a fierce modernity resulting from this unruly approach.

And it is really an adaptation, a tracking of the throughline of corrupting monarchical power on a single dynasty in the frame of the country pile from which they rule. Sections are divided by kings, so first we see Ramsey Nasr’s fervent Henry V marking the moral highwater that declines with Eelco Smits’ disinterested dweeb Henry VI (all three parts effectively condensed into an hour) and hits rock-bottom with Hans Kesting’s superbly insane Richard III, the evening’s most mesmerising performance. Continue reading “Review: Kings of War, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam”

fosterIAN awards 2014

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayGillian Anderson, A Streetcar Named Desire Chris Nietvelt & Halina Reijn, Maria Stuart (Toneelgroep Amsterdam) Linda Bassett, Visitors
Susannah Fielding, The Merchant of Venice (Almeida)
Denise Gough, Adler and Gibb
Imelda Staunton, Good People
Best Actor in a PlayCary Crankson, The Saints Jack Holden, Johnny Get Your Gun Jonathan Broadbent, My Night With Reg
Chris Connel, Wet House
Harry Melling, peddling
Mark Strong, A View From The Bridge
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayVanessa Kirby, A Streetcar Named DesirePhoebe Fox & Nicola Walker, A View From The Bridge Blythe Duff, The James Plays
Liz White, Electra
Lydia Wilson, King Charles III
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayJoe Caffrey, Wet House Hans Kesting, Maria Stuart (Toneelgroep Amsterdam) Patrick Godfrey, Donkey Heart
Julian Ovenden, My Night With Reg
Hugh Skinner, Thérèse Raquin (Theatre Royal Bath)
Geoffrey Streatfeild, My Night With Reg
Best Actress in a MusicalImelda Staunton, Gypsy Gemma Arterton, Made in Dagenham Charlotte Baptie, Free As Air
Natalie Mendoza, Here Lies Love
Christina Modestou, In The Heights
Sophie Thompson, Guys and Dolls
Best Actor in a MusicalSam Mackay, In The Heights Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion Adrian der Gregorian, Made In Dagenham
Killian Donnelly, Memphis
Jon Robyns, The Last Five Years
Jeremy Secomb, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalJenna Russell, Urinetown Lara Pulver, Gypsy Samantha Bond, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, In The Heights
Kiara Jay, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Zoe Rainey, The Return of the Soldier
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalJason Pennycooke, Memphis Aaron Tveit, Assassins Damian Buhagiar, In The Heights
Tyrone Huntley, Memphis
Nadim Naaman, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)
Jonathan Slinger, Urinetown

2014 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical


Best Actress in a Play

Gillian Anderson, A Streetcar Named Desire
In what proved to be a banner year for brilliant female performances, narrowing this category down to 10 proved nigh on impossible (indeed, the 10 is actually a 11 and I can’t tell you how it killed me to miss Helen McCrory who was just on the cusp). But after much consideration, it is Gillian Anderson’s Blanche DuBois who takes the prize. Star casting it may have been but resulting in a performance of the highest wattage, Anderson’s modern-day leading lady was captivating from the moment she tottered onto the revolving stage and kept us transfixed until the bitter, bitter end as she broke everyone’s heart with the most devastating of exits.

Honourable mention: Halina Reijn/Chris Nietvelt, Maria Stuart (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
When rounding up a year’s worth of theatre, it can be difficult to avoid focusing on the shows seen more recently but even though Maria Stuart was one of the last things I saw this December, I left the theatre in Amsterdam utterly convinced I’d seen one of the best productions of the year and in Halina Reijn’s Mary and Chris Nietvelt’s Elizabeth, two of the fiercest, most impassioned portrayals on women on the stage. Wrestling with the duties of statehood, the practicalities of being a woman in a man’s world, the very nature of power itself, these two actors inhabited the very substance of Schiller’s text and brought it to extraordinary life.

Linda Bassett, Visitors
Susannah Fielding, The Merchant of Venice (Almeida)
Denise Gough, Adler and Gibb
Imelda Staunton, Good People

7-10
Lisa Diveney, Donkey Heart; Sophie Gråbøl, The James Plays; Marieke Heebink, Medea (Toneelgroep Amsterdam); Sinéad Matthews, Pests


Best Actress in a Musical

Imelda Staunton, Gypsy
We knew this was going to be good, but I don’t think anyone dared dream it would be this good. Destined to be one of the hottest tickets in town when the London transfer opens at the Savoy, better experienced than written about!

Honourable mention: Gemma Arterton, Made In Dagenham
One of the most sweet-natured performances lies at the heart of one of the most sweet-natured shows currently in the West End and I think it is fair to say that Gemma Arterton surprised many of us by anchoring Made in Dagenham to such delightful success. A mother, a machinist, an unexpected feminist hero, she’s a wonderfully warm presence and one that I hope can help the show to continue to succeed.

Charlotte Baptie, Free As Air
Natalie Mendoza, Here Lies Love
Christina Modestou, In The Heights
Sophie Thompson, Guys and Dolls

7-10
Madalena Alberto, Evita; Clare Foster, Guys and Dolls; Nicola Hughes, Porgy and Bess; Siobhan McCarthy, Sweeney Todd (Tooting Arts Club)