Posts Tagged ‘Henry VI’

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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I only managed four this week and it wasn’t the most exciting start.

I had high hopes for Dhaka Theatre’s Tempest but I’m afraid it was a mere squall. There was something about the exaggerated movement (particularly the silly walks!) which irritated and for me it was colourful but neither dramatic nor magical, I’m afraid.

The next day, though, the Polish Macbeth restored honour to European theatre – with bells on! A very radical and filleted modern staging was no doubt detested by the purists. The witches were drag queens (who cruised in the audience and sang I Will Survive on cue!), Macbeth’s riotous victory party saw the vodka-fuelled King dad dancing to Billy Jean and most of the male characters seemed to spend a large part of the time in their underwear. It came in at under 2 hours (with interval!), yet I thought it completely captured the power-crazed madness that is the heart of the play.

I’ve been to all the Balkan nations in recent years and thought the idea of asking three of them to each do one part of Henry VI was inspired. Perhaps arriving 40 minutes late (I thought it started at 1.30pm not 12.30pm) was part of the reason I couldn’t really understand what the Serbian‘s were getting at with their interpretation of Part I. The actors had great presence as very realistic noblemen at war, helped by some excellent period costumes. There were a large number of wrought iron pieces which kept being reconfigured into a snake-like platform, a circular ‘maze’ etc. but I couldn’t see the point – they just got in the way of the action. What I really didn’t like was the misguided funny business, like a dumb-show illustrating the early life of Richard as Mortimer is relating it to him.

With a right royal history (including the brilliantly titled King Zog!), one should perhaps not be surprised that the Albanian Part II was a more regal affair. Again, actors with great presence, but I’m afraid the pacing was somewhat slow – with some scene changes taking so long you were wondering if we’d got to an interval / conclusion.

Sadly, I couldn’t make the Macedonian Part III, which I am led to believe was the best! I also missed the two Zimbabwean gents doing Two Gents, which I also hear was good. Week four will be a lean one as work gets in the way. I will miss the Argentinian / Mexican Henry VI pairing and the Belarus King Lear, but hope to make the rest. To be continued…..

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