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 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: 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: 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: 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”

Review: Lange Dagreis Naar De Nacht, Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg

Verleden is heden, of niet? Het is ook de toekomst. We proberen onzself daaruit te liegen, maar het leven drukt ons er met de neus op.”

For those new to Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece Lange Dagreis Naar De Nacht / Long Day’s Journey Into Night, the opening image of Ivo van Hove’s masterly adaptation for Toneelgroep Amsterdam sets the tone accurately as a family drama as the four Tyrones – mother, father, two sons – embrace. But it’s a disarming sequence too, as the next three hours sees this nuclear family unit exploded as drug addiction, terminal disease, alcohol abuse and the bitter frustrations of past and present tear them apart. And they each float around the vast stage of their modern home like isolated atoms, the mind is drawn back to that opening image, reminding of the tragedy of the disintegration in front of us.

And though Jan Versweyveld’s beautiful set stretches across a wide and deep space with just the minimalist touches of design, van Hove’s production swells to fill it to the brim with the bruised pain, aching recriminations and crushed dreams of these four who are lost in this world, their inescapable own little worlds in fact, that simultaneously keep them trapped here yet unable to interact in a meaningful way. That opening embrace is inspired by Mary’s return from treatment for her scarcely acknowledged morphine addiction but over the course of the day that follows, the ‘long day’ of the title, her return provokes the subtlest of shifts in their collective self-delusion. Continue reading “Review: Lange Dagreis Naar De Nacht, Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg”