Review: Obsession, Barbican

 

“There’s more to this magical life than the love of the ladies”

It has been impossible to ignore the reception of Ivo van Hove’s Obsession, the slight sense of glee (from some) at being able to dole out a critical drubbing to the feted director. And so I went into the Barbican with a slight sense of defensiveness – I’m only human after all – albeit with the knowledge that no-one is infallible. And whilst Obsession isn’t necessarily van Hove at his best (and lord know we’ve been spoiled there), it still makes for a fascinating piece of theatre.

Based on Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film, adapted by Jan Peter Gerrits and crucially, having its English version written by Simon Stephens, this is an altogether more abstract and expressionist affair than perhaps some were expecting. A tale of sex and murder, whose muscularity and moodiness sprawls over the vast stage with stylish languour, there’s a brooding beauty to the intensity here, captured excellently by two striking lead performances from Jude Law and Halina Reijn. Continue reading “Review: Obsession, Barbican”

20 shows to look forward to in 2017

2017 is only just over a week away now and the reviewing diary is already filling up! All sorts of headline-grabbing West End shows have already been announced (The Glass Menagerie, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Don Juan In Soho, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia) and the National look to continue a sensational year with another (Twelfth Night, Consent, the heaven-sent Angels in America), so this list is looking a little further afield to the London fringe and some of the UK theatres I hope to get to throughout the year.


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon

After hearing Elizabeth Newman speak passionately on a panel discussion about women’s theatre, I kinda have a big (intellectual) crush on her, so I’m very keen to see her tackle a new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew of the classic Anne Bronte novel in a theatre that is very close to my heart.
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2017”

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.

Continue reading “Review: De Andere Stem, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam”

Review: Hedda Gabler, National

“I’ve never felt at home”

With Hedda Gabler, the ever prolific Ivo van Hove is making his National Theatre debut, so you can forgive him returning to a production which he has launched twice before – with the exceptional Dutch actress Halina Reijn in Amsterdam and with Elizabeth Marvel in New York. This time however, he’s working with a new version of Ibsen’s play by Patrick Marber and has the equally extraordinary talents of Ruth Wilson leading his company. And as with his revelatory A View From The Bridge, this is a contemporary reworking of a classic that will frustrate some with its froideur but left me gasping at its gut-wrenching rawness.

As ever, van Hove’s spatial intelligence lends itself to a re-appreciation of the theatrical space in which he’s working. He’s invited audiences onstage at the Barbican, and backstage too and here in the Lyttelton, the wings are closed off by Jan Versweyveld’s gallery-like white box and so characters make their entrances and exits through the same doors that we use – Judge Brack even arrives via the rear stalls at one point. And van Hove keeps things off-kilter onstage too, often pushing the action out to the far edges, focusing the eye on unexpected details like the eloquent sweep of Hedda’s back, the tapping foot of a nervy ever-watching Berthe. Continue reading “Review: Hedda Gabler, National”

DVD Review: Black Book (2006)

“One bottle of gin and the Resistance is ready to die”

Paul Verhoeven’s Zwartboek, known internationally as Black Book, was the Dutch director’s first film made in his home country since establishing his Hollywood career with hits such as Robocop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct, as well as the immortal classic that is Showgirls. Peter Bradshaw detested it but the Dutch public voted it the best Dutch film ever made, so who knows…for my part, I really rather enjoyed it.

Starting in 1944, Black Book tells of life in the Netherlands under Occupation, following the Jewish Rachel Stein as her life in hiding is shattered, her subsequent escape plans with her family foiled by discovery by the Nazis, and her ensuing life as a resistance fighter dogged by ever-present danger. Under the alias Ellis de Vries, she goes undercover at the local Gestapo office but betrayal is a constant worry and threatens to undermine all she’s working for. Continue reading “DVD Review: Black Book (2006)”

DVD Review: Valkyrie (2008)

“We have to show the world that not all of us are like him”

I have to admit that my hopes were not high for Valkyrie, the assumption prevailing that Hollywood couldn’t manage a nuanced film about the Nazis. But I do have to commend Bryan Singer for at least exceeding those expectations. It’s still not a film that I particularly enjoyed though, not quite tense or suspenseful enough for a thriller, not quite psychologically intense.

The film concerns the failed assassination of Adolf Hitler by German officers of the Wehrmacht in 1944. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg returns from a grisly battle in Tunisia gravely injured and is identified as a key target by the German resistance after getting a desk job that puts him in the ideal position to destroy the Nazi high command from the inside. Spoiler alert – things, however, do not go to plan. Continue reading “DVD Review: Valkyrie (2008)”

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. Continue reading “Review: Husbands and Wives, 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”

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