“Kings of War”

From the Newsletter announcement:

Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican, directed by Ivo van Hove

Olivier Award-winning director, Ivo van Hove, returns to the Barbican with this epic re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III. Shakespeare’s kings are political leaders who come face to face with the ultimate responsibility: they must make the life-or-death decision of whether to go to war. Their decision-making is laid bare, exposing the conflict between national concerns and self-interest.

This startling drama speaks both to the past and the present as it highlights the way in which the misuse of power leads to greater abuse, and how often our leaders’ self-importance and desire for legacy can undo both them and us.

Director Ivo van Hove has been described as one of the most affecting and clearest-sighted directors working in world theatre.

Matinee, on a Sunday at the end of April, performance in Dutch with English surtitles, the Society has obtained a number of tickets for a performance open to the general public.



‘marathon performance on 24 April’, by Marja Kingma

If there was one Shakespeare play one should see this anniversary year, it was ‘Kings of War’ by Toneelgroep Amsterdam.  A real bargain, because three plays were rolled into one.
Should the prospect of sitting through this marathon performance (on the day of the London Marathon) of four-and-a-half hours of Shakespeare in Dutch with English surtitles put you off, you needn’t have worried. This was Dutch and Flemish theatre at its best. No wonder, with Ivo van Hove at the helm. Together with Bart van den Eynde and Peter van Kraaij he adapted Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III into a play about power and the eternal scheming, plotting and back stabbing (often literally) it brings, from the 15th right through to the 21st Century. Van Hove makes it crystal clear that nothing changes when it comes to power.

Van Hove sets his adaptation firmly in the 20th and 21st Century. This is reflected in the sets, designed by Jan Versweyveld: a bunker in the foreground, and various other settings in a labyrinth of corridors, off stage, shown on screens via video. By using the video in highly creative ways, the play got an extra dimension, allowing us to actually see what mostly stays hidden in traditional Shakespeare performances. Often this involved assassinations, carried out by suffocation or injection. Another unforgettable scene made possible by this set-up was the moment where Henry VI yearns for a more humble life, amongst a small flock of sheep.

Rob Klinkenberg’s trans­lation is a real tour-de-force. Not only did he have to translate Shakespeare’s revered language into Dutch, he also had to make it sound modern, and suitable for surtitles, without losing its poetic power. The fact that the surtitles helped the audience, including some native English speakers, to keep track of proceedings is the best tribute to him. The same can be said of the adaptation as a whole which, according to some reports, helped people to better understand their own history!

The cast was very impressive. Ramsey Nasr is a confident Henry V, who knows how to play a crowd, but is lost for words when he woes Katharina (Helene Devos), in one of the funnier scenes. Eelco Smits plays Henry VI with disarming vulnerability, in sharp contrast with Hans Kesting’s creepy Richard III. Kesting portrays Richard III as part charming, part threatening; a man whose paranoia gets the better of him, when at the very last he sits in a dark and empty room, with only a metronome ticking away the little time he has left. Absolutely chilling.

What could have been a tortuous ordeal was instead a real treat. The time flew past and before I knew it the curtain came down. Just as well then, that our excellent organizer Marianne Denney had arranged for some members of the cast to meet us afterwards. Bart Slegers and Chris Nietvelt told us about the London tour and also about the plans to bring the 2009 Roman Tragedies production back to London next year, so if you missed Kings of War, look out for the Romans!