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Posts Tagged ‘Toneelgroep Amsterdam’

This is the fourth Visconti film director Ivo van Hove has adapted for the stage, but the first we’ve seen in the UK. It was his first film, considered to be the beginning of neo-realism, based on the short American novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (though why on earth it was called that is beyond me), as was a French film adaptation three years before Visconti’s. This was the title of the English language film adaptations 6 years and 39 years later. There was an opera in 1982 and Hungarian and German-Turkish film adaptations more recently. I can’t help but ask the question Why? Visconti crossed over to theatre and opera and it’s one of those coincidences I’m so fond of that his first stage adaptation, Les Infantes Terribles, was also the play (in a much later adaptation at the National) in which I first saw the star of this, Jude Law.

It’s a tale of self-destructive passion. Gino is a drifter who wanders into the restaurant / bar of Joseph and his much younger wife Hannah and instantly falls for her. After initial hostility from Joseph, he repairs his car and water pump in exchange for his food and then moves on. He meets another drifter, Johnny, an odd scene which is a touch homoerotic, and the even younger Anita, but Joseph finds him and brings him back with an offer of lodging in exchange for jobs; I found this rather implausible – why would you put such tempation in front of your young wife? The relationship between Gino and Hannah gets ever more passionate and obsessive before they kill Joseph and begin the journey on the road to self-destruction.

This is my seventh van Hove production and I’m beginning to think he may be a master of recycling rather than reinvention. There are a lot of trick’s he’s played before, including sparseness in staging, video projections and a brooding soundtrack. It’s now clear he has a ‘house style’; it would be nice to see more diverse approaches. The pace was rather slow, though it did come alive in the steamy scenes, where projections are used to great effect, during struggles and when violent acts are committed. Different parts of the stage are used for different locations and you occasionally have to quickly work out where you are at that moment. The Barbican stage is vast and it does make you feel detached from it. I felt more like a voyeur, somewhat uninvolved in it.

It’s also the seventh time I’ve seen Jude Law on stage and he continues to impress, and there was great chemistry with his excellent co-star Halina Reijn. She and the other two Dutch actors shame us all with their fluent virtually accent-free English.

I’m glad I went, but it didn’t really live up to my expectations – good rather than great.

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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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So David beat Goliath in the battle of the Antigone’s. Pilot Theatre’s UK touring version, currently at Stratford East (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/antigone-theatre-royal-stratford), proves to have more energy, passion, creativity and contemporary relevance than Ivo van Hove’s big international touring show with the star actress, hot on the heels of the West End transfer of his much more emotionally engaging A View From the Bridge.

There’s nothing bad about it, but there’s nothing particularly illuminating or innovative about it either. I thought it was rather conservative, unnecessarily slow and it didn’t engage me emotionally at all; the acid test for Greek tragedy. Set in front of a giant screen on which projections sometimes appear, the setting is contemporary, all black leather sofas and dark clothing. The actors are miked, which adds a feeling of detachment. It tells the story of Antigone’s defiance of King Creon over the burial of her brother perfectly well, but in a rather pedestrian way that failed to truly engage me.

van Hove has surrounded Juliet Binoche with a fine British & Irish cast including Patrick O’Kane as Antigone’s nemesis King Creon, Kirsty Bushell as Antigone’s more compliant sister Ismene and Finbar Lynch as the blind prophet Teiresias. Though the performances are often passionate, somehow they didn’t seem real enough to move you – you could see the acting! There’s another of van Hove’s atmospheric soundscapes, but even that didn’t heighten the tension as it did with A View.

I’m a bit puzzled why this one didn’t work. I saw van Hove’s Medea in Amsterdam last month and that engaged and moved me a lot more (in Dutch!), but in the Antigone stakes, Pilot Theatre win hands down.

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