Review: Oedipus, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam

Robert Icke tackles Oedipus with the same verve as his celebrated Oresteia in a spectacular Toneelgroep Amsterdam production

“‘Het draait alles om, maar staat zelf stil”

You wouldn’t think Robert Icke could do it again, especially in another language, but his version of Oedipus for Toneelgroep Amsterdam is quite frankly phenomenal. Shifting it into the world of contemporary politics and digging into his familiar bag of tricks doesn’t seem revolutionary on paper but on stage, it was just electric. I don’t think the ticking countdown has ever been so brutally effective.

Hans Kesting’s Oedipus is a breath of fresh air in the politics of this Thebes and Icke sets the play in real time on election night, confining the action to the campaign office where Oedipus awaits the result with his family and friends. That wait is filled with tension, not least because he’s decided to start investigating the death of previous leader Laius which, if you’re not familiar with the plot, is a whole can of worms… Continue reading “Review: Oedipus, 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 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.

De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan is an adaptation of a Louis Couperus novel, a Dutch writer from the turn of the last century whose work appears to be undergoing a Rattigan-like re-invigoration as its extraordinary psychological acuity is being rescued from the previously dusty image it has been saddled with. An epic family story, it probes into the legacy of Dutch colonial times and the way in which unresolved bad deeds can infect generation after generation to pernicious effect, depicting the atomisation of the nuclear family long before it became the norm that it is today, something reflected in the austere timeless beauty of Versweyveld’s design. Continue reading “Review: De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam”

Review: The Fountainhead, deSingel Antwerpen

“I could die for you, but I couldn’t and wouldn’t live for you”

It feels almost heretical to say that one wasn’t blown away by an Ivo van Hove production but The Fountainhead managed that. In fact, it’s not even the first time, The Antonioni Project similarly failed to excite me in the same way that the best of his work with Toneelgroep Amsterdam has done. Linking these two shows is my lack of fore-knowledge of either, I’ve yet to see an Antonioni film and likewise, I’d never read Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel (mainly because people had told me it was such hard work).

Which isn’t to say that advance homework is absolutely necessary, there’s a whole world of thinkpieces to be written on enjoying or appreciating a work of theatre on its own merits, but that when that theatre is as multilayered and complex as van Hove is wont to produce (and also in a foreign language, I was at an unsurtitled performance for once), it can only help. As such, this delving deep into the world of anticollectivism was one of the more challenging four hours I’ve spent in a theatre. Continue reading “Review: The Fountainhead, deSingel Antwerpen”

Review: Bloedbruiloft, Frascati

“Dingen die zo diep aankomen die krijgt geen mens eruit”

I knew that the main show I booked for my stay in Amsterdam would be surtitled in English but in the hunt for something to do the night before, I couldn’t help but be a little adventurous (crazy) and book for a piece of Dutch theatre in Dutch in the Netherlands. So I went for Bloedbruiloft (Blood Wedding) as it’s a play I know and was being produced by the new directors scheme at Toneelgroep Amsterdam. Plus the thought of seeing a piece of theatre entirely in a foreign language had a definite thrill about it, and one which was borne out in some of the most exciting, crazy, intense theatre I’ve seen all year. 

It is just an extraordinary reworking (tekstbewerking being the fabulous Dutch word for adaptation) of the text that takes the frame of Lorca’s writing but utterly shifts the context. The focus falls squarely on the family, the community of people in this village and the intensity of emotion it provokes between its inhabitants – whether the mother and her beloved son, or his intended bride and the forbidden fruit that is neighbour Leonardo. This approach also plays up when these relationships are inequal – the disdain between Leonardo and his devoted and constantly fretting wife, the fatal mismatch between bridegroom and bride. Continue reading “Review: Bloedbruiloft, Frascati”

Review: Antonioni Project, Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

“Wie tegenwoordig voor mooie dingen geeft?”

Featuring the return of Toneelgroep Amsterdam to the Barbican, Antonioni Project is another multimedia extravaganza from the Dutch theatre company who blew many, including me, away with their six-hour Shakespeare epic, The Roman Tragedies. Under Ivo van Hove’s direction, they have built up a sterling reputation as one of the leading European companies with their innovative blending of film-making techniques into more traditional theatre and creating a whole new theatrical experience for the audience.

This work pulls together three of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960s films, L’Avventura, La Notte and L’Eclisse, with their common themes of couples struggling to reconcile notions of love with the reality of sex in a changing world that they feel estranged from due to their extreme materialism. The narratives of the three films are mixed, with characters from each interacting, I’d recommend reading the programme beforehand whether you know the films or not just to give you a bit of context that will prove invaluable. Continue reading “Review: Antonioni Project, Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican”

Review: The Roman Tragedies, Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

“Who amongst us here would not want to be a Roman?”

At first glance, this might not seem the easiest way to spend an evening: three Shakespeare plays back-to-back, lasting six hours and performed entirely in Dutch. However The Roman Tragedies is probably one of the most exhilarating theatrical experiences of the year. Presented here at the Barbican by Toneelgroep Amsterdam, the foremost Dutch theatre company, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra are performed consecutively, as per their timelines which gives a pleasing flow to the evening: there’s a real sense of a grand narrative to the whole evening, of the developing nature of politics and democracy and how it is communicated to the masses.

It opens on a large stage with the cast spread over a number of sofas and ministages, and the play is delivered in a normal fashion with surtitles provided on a large screen above. Then as the first break approached, some consuls appeared in the middle of the audience to deliver their scene, giving you the first indication that this would be no ordinary production. During that first break (rather than normal intervals, the action is interspersed with short breaks), the audience were invited to come onto stage and watch from the sofas: there was also a bar where you could buy a drink and computers to check your email, you could really immerse yourself in the action and become part of the play, a citizen of Rome if you will, whilst the political debates of war and democracy rage around you. I particularly loved the scrolling news flashes which reminded us of the length of time until the deaths of each of the key characters, it was so witty I didn’t even mind that it was 295 minutes until Cleopatra’s death! Continue reading “Review: The Roman Tragedies, Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican”