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Posts Tagged ‘Ivo van Hove’

I feel privileged to have seen many theatre productions by great directors from around the world, like Canada’s Robert Lepage and the late Yukio Ninagawa from Japan. Ivo van Hove joined my list of favourites some 17 years ago with his production of Arthur Milker’s A View from the Bridge here at the Young Vic, and 12 shows later he’s back with this solo piece adapted from Edouard Louis’ 2018 autobiographical novel.

It follows the relationship between Edouard and his father from childhood to the latter’s industrial accident and subsequent disability. He was an abusive father and husband, a racist and a homophobe, particularly cruel to Edouard as a gay boy. Hans Kesting plays both father and son at all ages, together with cameos as mother and brother, switching with ease. The mental cruelty is a tough watch. Towards the end it goes off on a tangent, ranting against French leaders for the right-wing turns that impacted the poor and disadvantaged such as Edouard’s dad.

van Hove’s regular designer Jan Verswayveld creates some striking visual images in a black room with just a bed, door and windows, particularly in his use of lighting. It’s very much in van Hove’s ‘house style’ which gives it a visceral quality. It’s an extraordinary tour de force from Kesting, an actor with great presence and range. The turn from personal to political towards the end, albeit true to the source, did jar with me though; it felt as if it was bolted on, an addition rather than an integral part of the story. That said, it’s an enthralling if harrowing ninety minutes.

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I really missed Edinburgh this year, regretting my decision not to go, and this was one of the main festival shows I would have seen had it been on whilst I was there (together with Ivo van Hove’s adaptation of A Little Life). The latter went straight home to The Netherlands, but this stopped over in Birmingham en route back to Australia, so I made an impulsive day trip from London, which proved to be another great idea. It seemed particularly appropriate that it was part of the arts accompanying the Commonwealth Games.

S. Shakthidharan’s play, an extraordinary debut, is an epic tale of a Sri Lankan family and the events which led to some of them emigrating to Australia. A family story interwoven with the political turmoil of their home country in the 1970’s and 80’s. We first meet Radha and her nineteen-year-old son Siddhartha in Sydney in 2004. He’s away at University, with an indigenous Australian girlfriend, and she’s empty nesting across the city. Radha’s mother, the first of the family to emigrate there, has died and they conduct a ritual to accompany her ashes into Sydney harbour.

From here we flash back to Radha’s birth in Sri Lanka in the 1950’s, and forward to her late teens when she marries and becomes pregnant with Sid. Her father is a senior Tamil politician at a time when changes, notably moving from three official languages (Sinhala, Tamil & English) to one, just Sinhala, threaten the security situation. It leads to a division in the country, provoked by the new government it seems, resulting in a Tamil community enclave in the north centred on Jaffna. This is 1983, Radha’s husband disappears, presumed dead, and she obtains a rare and precious visa and emigrates to Australia. I visited Sri Lanka shortly after this, when tourism returned to the island, and remember vividly the aftermath.

It’s playing time of over three hours feels a lot less as it moves swiftly from scene to scene, with inventive staging and onstage musicians propelling the story and defining the time and locations, marked by signposts above and behind the playing area. Multiple languages are used without surtitles, with other actors translating or explaining when necessary. Eamon Flack’s staging – he is also associate writer, with the playwright also associate director – flows beautifully, draws you in quickly and never lets you go. There are over twenty performers from six countries, led by Nadie Kammallawera as older Radha, Shiv Palekar as Sid and Vaishnavi Suryaprakash as younger Radha; the performances are uniformly excellent.

I’ve seen other work by Belvoir theatre company, one of Australia’s finest, including at their home base in Sydney seven years ago. I’m really glad I made this journey to see them again. Plays like this are few and far between.

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I’m fond of a bit of Greek tragedy, though at 3h45m this is more than a bit. It’s Ivo van Hove’s third mash-up, though the first two were Shakespeare – The Romans, which I missed, and English kings, which I saw. This combines seven plays, six by Euripides and one by Aeschylus, that take us from the sacrifice of Iphegene by her father Agamemnon to Elektra & Orestes’ revenge on their mother and her new lover for the murder of Agamemnon, their father. The decline of the House of Atreus, with the Trojan War as its backdrop.

It has the aesthetics of a rock concert, well heavy metal to be more precise, with an onstage band and the customary Greek chorus as dancers. At other times, there’s a percussive soundscape, again played live, with the cast sometimes joining in on makeshift instruments like buckets, and the scaffolding that covers the sides of the stage. The screen at the back presents us with family trees before we start and images, song lyrics and narrative during. Given the programme’s synopsis and character profiles, and the fact it’s in Dutch (with surtitles) I was expecting to be confused, but the linear narrative was very clear. The second half has a different feel, perhaps because it was first performed as Elektra/Oreste, but also because its performed in mud.

It’s both very physical and very visceral. The characters throw themselves around the stage in what seems like constant anger and rage. Revenge follows revenge in graphic scenes of torture and death. You don’t go to Greek tragedy for a fun night out! The attempts at finding contemporary parallels are subtle and valid. We do seem to be living in a new age of rage, challenging authority, the establishment and democracy itself. I was gripped by its theatricality throughout. It rarely lagged and I left the theatre as if I’d devoured a very satisfying feast.

I’ve seen many Greek tragedies in many locations and languages, from an entire weekend in a disused carpet factory in Bradford, in French, to intimate spaces where you can feel the actor’s breath in the air between you, though sadly never in Greece, and this is amongst the best. It was also my eleventh van Hove production, and I came to the conclusion that he’s at his best on such an epic scale.

Only two more performances at the Barbican Theatre. Unmissable.

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Jean Cocteau’s artistic range was extraordinary. Writer (poetry, novels, plays, ballets and opera), film-maker (director, cinematographer, screenwriter) and artist (graphics, stained glass, buildings). His plays – and there were almost twenty of them – are rarely revived here; I can only remember one other being produced in London during my decades here, so this is a rare event.

You wouldn’t expect this monodrama to find a home in the West End, but the combination of actor Ruth Wilson and director Ivo van Hove is guaranteed to put bums on seats. They are both favourites of mine, so that was a guarantee to put mine on one of the seats. I’d only ever seen it’s operatic adaptation by Poulenc, so it was my first exposure to the play.

A woman is in her apartment waiting for a call, frustrated by the party line (remember those?). We hear her even when she is out of view, perhaps collecting something. Eventually she is connected with her lover, only to learn that he is to marry someone else. She seems to take this lightly, making arrangements for the collection of his things, but underneath her heart is clearly breaking. The call is disconnected and reconnected a number of times, which adds to the emotional roller-coaster ride that she’s on.

It takes a great actor to sound matter-of-fact to her invisible caller yet look emotionally broken to us voyeurs in the audience. It’s a tour de force which Cocteau wrote in response to his actress’ friends’ desire for a meaty role, and it still feels like a very exposed, visceral, challenging piece. In this production, she is in a rectangular box with glass on one long side, no decor or props, lighting changes influencing the mood of the piece and the glass proving to be a window which slides open, suggesting the balcony of an apartment block. The final image takes your breath away.

I’ve seen all but one of Wilson’s London stage performances, but that’s only seven, so it was a pleasure to be reminded of her talent with such a virtuoso performance.

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This is one of the most anticipated West End openings this year. A stage adaptation of the iconic 1950 film of the same name, with Gillian Anderson taking Bette Davies’ role and Lily James playing Eve, and the much sought after director Ivo van Hove at the helm. Could it possibly live up to the hype?

Margot is a successful stage actress, surrounded by an entourage that includes the writer, director and producer of her current play, her best friend Karen and companion / maid Birdie. Eve enters her life, a fan who says she attends every performance, brought from outside the stage door by Karen. In no time at all, she’s working for Margot, becomes indispensable, putting Birdie’s nose out of joint but virtually everyone else under her spell. Soon she’s understudying Margot, getting to perform after some tricks and deception, inviting a critic also under her spell to ensure her career takes off.

Such a theatrical story makes an excellent transfer from screen to stage, and at the same time suits Ivo van Hove’s cinematic house style. All of his usual ingredients are here, with live video footage the most significant. The three walls of the multi-purpose room set rise to reveal the real theatre walls painted silver, enclosed bathroom and kitchen, from which we have scenes projected onto the set’s back wall, props, costumes and photos of the star. It feels like both backstage and film set and works brilliantly. There are some real theatrical coup’s, notably Margot ageing before our eyes as she looks in her dressing room mirror, and the photos turned around as Eve’s career progresses.

Gillian Anderson plays Margot with great subtlety, and looks simply stunning. Lily James navigates her manipulative road well, with restraint but steely determination too. It’s a fantastic supporting cast, including a brilliant performance from Monica Dolan as Karen and Stanley Townsend outstanding as the acerbic critic Addison DeWitt, a manipulative match for Eve. Rashan Stone is excellent as playwright Lloyd Richards, Karen’s husband, as is Julian Ovenden as director Bill Sampson, Margot’s boyfriend. There’s a lovely cameo at the end from Tsion Habte as Phoebe, who completes the circle of a deliciously rounded story.

It’s a while before it takes hold of you, but then it doesn’t let go. It resonates in our celebrity obsessed age as much, if not more, than it must have done 69 years ago. The story, the staging & design and the performances come together to ensure it does live up to the hype. In a life-imitates-art moment, the lovely Canadian lady sitting next to me, an avid Gillian Anderson fan, told me before the start she was seeing in three more times during her eight day stay!

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The Lyttelton has been turned into a TV News Studio, with a control room and make-up & meeting rooms. There’s also a fully functioning restaurant on stage, with kitchen behind, where audience members are served and eat a full meal during the play (the clatter of cutlery as they did was occasionally irritating!) and where several scenes take place. It’s one of the best uses of this vast space ever; a brilliant design by Jan Versweyveld.

It’s more than forty years since the film on which this is based was made, but you’d never know it, even though Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay remains in the 70’s. It may be timeless, well it’s certainly found its time now, in a world of fake news and wholesale disaffection, even though we’ve now also got news from the internet and social media. I thought it was thrilling and timely.

Howard Beale is a long standing news anchor who appears to have a meltdown on air. The fictional NBS network’s initial reaction is to dump him, until they realise there is mileage, and money, in having someone madly prophetic on TV. He continues to plough his own furrow, at all odds, whilst engaging with the world around him, even turning against his paymasters.

American actor Bryan Cranston is best known for his screen work, only making his Broadway debut a few years back. He has terrific presence and is as good as Howard Beale on stage as Peter Finch was on film. He’s surrounded by a high quality supporting cast, notably Douglas Henshall as his friend and protector Max, Michelle Dockery as bright young producer Diana and Tunji Kasim as the company CEO.

van Hove uses his trademark live video again, this time for scenes in partially obscured spaces, outside the building, and for close-ups in the studio and the restaurant. There’s a big screen centre stage and a strip screen high up, right along the three sides. The last two of his productions worried me, that he was becoming a master of reinvention, but with this he regains his place as the master of invention with a production that’s technically hugely accomplished but also serves the material well, making it resonate once more in a new age.

After the curtain calls there was historical video footage on the big screen which resulted in cheers and boos from the exiting audience and, in a life-imitates-art moment as it ended, there were loud cries of ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore’! Unmissable.

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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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At the end of this play I was convinced Partick Marber’s ‘version’ was substantially different to Ibsen’s original. Then I read the synopsis and discovered it wasn’t. It’s contemporary not just in setting and dress, but also in dialogue and behaviour. The only thing that jarred with the contemporary was the guns, but even that wouldn’t have in the US. The combination of Marber, director Ivo van Hove and the mesmerising Ruth Wilson proves irresistible.

The newly married Tesmans return from honeymoon to their new home, which does indeed look as if they’re in the process of moving in. It doesn’t take long before we realise it’s a loveless marriage (well, at least on Hedda’s part) and the contrast between the coldness of George & Hedda’s relationship and the warmth of the relationship between George and his aunt Juliana, who brought him up, is striking. Lovborg, George’s former colleague, now competitor, was once in love with Hedda and is now in a relationship with her school friend Thea. Brack, a judge, is in lust with Hedda. Despite the fact Lovborg has cleared the way for Tesman’s professorship, Hedda still spikes his career in loyalty to her husband, and his relationship with Thea, perhaps through jealousy. The knowledge that Brack has a hold on her propels the play to its tragic conclusion.

It feels slow at first but when it gets going it becomes broodingly intense and eventually feels like a contemporary Scandinavian thriller. The vast one-room set adds to this atmosphere and there is some striking imagery, not least the way the light changes from dawn to sunrise through the French windows and the physicality of Hedda stapling flowers to the walls and virtually attacking the blinds. There were things I didn’t really get, most notably the continual presence of maid Berte, even illogically acknowledging her presence; she wasn’t an actor sitting on the side-lines but she wasn’t a character all of the time. It’s hard to take your eyes off Ruth Wilson, even when action and interactions are elsewhere; she is such a spellbinding presence. That said, it’s a fantastic cast with Kyle Soller’s earnest but naïve George and a very maternal Juliana from Kate Duchene. Brack’s sexual chemistry with Hedda was brilliantly conveyed by Rafe Spall and Chukwudi Iwuji was passionate and intense as Lovborg.

Patrick Marber gets more than his fair share of the National stages, but it’s great to see them welcoming world class directors like van Hove and Yael Farber. If I had seen it in 2016, this would have been one of my candidates for Best Revival of a Play, a completely fresh look at a playwright who is often produced like a museum piece.

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A collaboration between a musical hero for 45 years and a favourite theatre director. What could possibly go wrong? Well, an awful lot it turns out, starting with Enda Walsh’s obtuse and incoherent book.

Apparently it was all David Bowie’s idea. Producer Robert Fox came on board first, and he introduced playwright Enda Walsh, to whom Bowie gave four pages of notes and a selection of music to choose from. Director Ivo van Hove came on board last. What further involvement Bowie had is unclear. It would be impossible to stage The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which Bowie made his screen debut, but the idea was to take his character Newton and sort of pick up where the film left off.

It takes place entirely in a Manhattan apartment (uncannily like the one designer Jan Versweyveld built last year in the Young Vic for Song from Far Away).The band is on the other side of the apartment windows, with screens and curtains sometimes putting them out of our view. There are video projections on a central screen, and also on the apartment walls and ceiling, and even behind the band; they are very effective.

Newton is an alien who came to earth to find water and a way of transporting it home. He made a fortune patenting technological ideas from his more advanced planet. Now he’s stuck on Earth drinking gin and watching endless TV, and we’re watching him as he interacts with three new characters – some sort of mass murderer, his assistant Elly and a girl. There are a handful of others. Exactly who they all are or whether they’re even real is unclear. In fact, it’s a complete lack of clarity and coherence that’s the show’s problem. Apparently, during gestation, Bowie’s assistant said ‘yeah, but what happens?’. I couldn’t have put it better myself. The narrative is a bit of a mess and the show is ever so dull.

The score is a mixture of old and new, from 1969’s The Man Who Sold the World through to the wonderful Where Are We Now? from The Next Day. The trouble is they all sound so cold, clinical and bland, devoid of energy and emotion, as if they’ve had the very life squeezed out of them, and the sound doesn’t help. When a club scene turned up accompanied by that Glam Rock anthem All the Young Dudes, I went from disappointment to despair.

You can’t fault Michael C Hall as Newton, sounding uncannily and spookily like Bowie, or Michael Esper as Valentine, the scary ‘mass murderer’. Sophie Anne Caruso as ‘girl’ and our own Amy Lennox as Newton’s assistant Elly are good too, but a fine young musical theatre talent like Jamie Muscato is wasted, I’m afraid. I bet he wished he was back in Bend it Like Beckham or Dogfight.

Whatever the quality of the creative inputs, it’s the material that kills it. It was a long unbroken 110 minutes. A huge disappointment.

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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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