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: 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: 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”