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Posts Tagged ‘Eelco Smits’

The Belgian director of Dutch theatre company Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Ivo van Hove, has created a 250 minute drama of leadership from Shakespeare’s Henry V, all three parts of Henry VI & Richard III. Given that together they come in at something like 14 hours, that’s some editing. Seeing it on St Georges Day / Shakespeare’s birthday, on the 400th anniversary of his death, made it a rather special experience.

It opens with photographs of English kings in reverse chronology to the period the play begins, starting three kings into the future! We actually begin at the deathbed of Henry IV, at the end of Part II of that play, as Prince Hal inherits the crown. The editing is specifically designed to contrast and compare the leadership styles of the three monarchs – Henry V’s youthful ambitious adventurer, Henry VI reluctant and troubled reign and the tyranny that was Richard III. It’s performed in Dutch, the surtitles speed reflecting the speedy speech. I’m a slow reader who savours words, so I was struggling to keep up and finding myself missing visual things to read all the dialogue. A third of the way through and I wasn’t convinced I’d see it through – I was exhausted – but during Henry VI it started to take a hold and by Richard III I was gripped. There were so many highly effective scenes – Henry V’s wooing of Katharina was charming and funny, Henry VI’s breakdowns were deeply moving and Richard III’s rampaging evil was menacing and thrillingly staged.

The wide space surrounded by walls has behind it corridors within which the action is relayed live by video onto a big screen stage centre. This apparently includes a flock of sheep, but as we don’t see these live like we do snatches of the other videoed scenes, they may not be there (unlike https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/king-lear-with-sheep !). It’s in modern dress, with the scene changing from office to ops rooms to living spaces. All of the performances are outstanding, particularly Eelco Smits as Henry VI (also good in van Hove’s Songs From Far Away at the Young Vic last year) and a stunning Richard III from Hans Kesting.

I wasn’t keen on van Hove’s Antigone at the same venue, but I did very much like his productions of  A View From The Bridge and Simon Stephens’ Song From Far Away, and based on those and this, he’s entered my directors-whose-work-I will-book-for-regardless list. A fittingly radical and fresh look at Will’s work for Shakespeare400.

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Another day, another monologue? Well not really, as this one-person play by Simon Stephens is much more than a monologue. In the hands of director Ivo van Hove and actor Eelco Smits, it’s a deeply personal story of love and loss where you seem to enter into someone’s thoughts and feelings rather than merely hearing or observing them.

Our protagonist returns from New York to his Amsterdam home for the funeral of his brother, though not initially to his home as he stays in a hotel. Over eighty minutes, he tells us his story as a series of letters to his dead brother. His relationship with his dad is clearly strained, his relationship with his brother was complicated, his mother dotes on him and his sister is preoccupied with her simple life and her children. He tries but fails to hook up with his former lover, but instead has a one-night stand with someone he picks up in a bar. It has surprising narrative and character depth for such a short play. He’s bearing his soul and opening his heart and the effect of this is heightened by the fact he does so completely naked for much of the play.

It’s a very simple unadorned box set, but Jan Versweyveld’s lighting is extraordinary and Mark Eitzel’s music haunting and beautiful – and beautifully sung by Eelco Smits, who’s naturalistic acting is compelling throughout. For me it never lagged; I was enthralled by the story and captivated by the visual imagery. I think the key is its simplicity and beauty. It’s hard to describe what it is, and even more so how if engages with you emotionally, so I’ll just say that it surprised me and left me thoughtful but content.

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