Kings of War
Eight years after the sensational Roman Tragedies, Ivo van Hove returns with his incredible theatrical machine to present another Shakespearian trilogy.
The Belgian master injects fury and flash into Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III, three sovereigns caught in the turmoil of power, part of the same dynasty as the current sovereign Queen Elizabeth II, our official head of state. An impressive event.
Three eras, three reigns. The transformation of Henry V, the bigotry of Henry VI, the thirst for power of Richard III. A gripping saga set against a backdrop of war, Shakespeare’s history plays are admirably condensed and focused on the fundament question of how to govern. Ensconced in a war room, the monarchs engage in intrigue and backroom dealings, subterfuge and assassinations, until their downfall. Performed on a vast labyrinthine stage where video screens broadcast live war footage, these classics are more than ever strongly rooted in our times. Thrilling theatre presented by fourteen dazzling actors and five musicians playing live. Truly great art.
Produced by Toneelgroep Amsterdam
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ivo van Hove
Performed by Hélène Devos + Jip van den Dool + Fred Goessens + Janni Goslinga + Aus Greidanus jr. + Marieke Heebink + Robert de Hoog + Hans Kesting + Ramsey Nasr + Chris Nietvelt + Harm Duco Schut + Bart Slegers + Eelco Smits + Leon Voorberg
Translated by Rob Klinkenberg
Adaptation and Dramaturgy Peter Van Kraaij
Adaptation Bart Van den Eynde
Set and Lighting Design Jan Versweyveld
Composer Eric Sleichim
Contratenor Steve Dugardin
Musicians BL!NDMAN [brass] : Konstantin Koev + Charlotte van Passen + Daniel Quiles Cascant + Daniel Ruibal Ortigueira
Costume Design An D’Huys
Video Tal Yarden
Direction Assistant Nina de la Parra + Olivier Diepenhorst
Dramaturgy Assistant Thomas Lamers
Set Design Assistant Bart Van Merode + Pascal Leboucq
Video Assistant Rodrik Biersteker
Lighting Design Assistant Trent Suidgeest
Sound Design Assistant Finn Kruyning
Casting Advice Hans Kemna
Head of Technique & Production Department Wolf-Götz Schwörer
Co-commissioners Barbican (London) + Théâtre National de Chaillot (Paris) + Wiener Festwochen (Wien)
Co-produced by BL!INDMAN (Brussels) + Holland Festival (Amsterdam) + Muziektheater Transparant (Antwerp)
Supported by Rabobank Amsterdam
Private producer Harry + Marijke van den Bergh
Written by Diane Jean
Translated by Neil Kroetsch
Premiered at Wiener Festwochen, Wien, on June 5, 2015
Shakespeare + Ivo van Hove (Amsterdam) Toneelgroep Amsterdam
As the head of Toneelgroep Amsterdam since 2001, the Belgian director Ivo van Hove has enjoyed a spectacular career.
With complex stagings imbued with piercing clarity, choices of works that reflect our current world order and his brilliant way of breathing new life into the classics, he has won over audiences in both Europe and America. He turns upside down our perceptions of writers as diverse as Duras, Schiller and Chekhov, and is very much at ease in blending together cinema and theatre. His innovative theatrical vision is rich in symbolism, with a strong predilection for Shakespeare (Macbeth, Richard II, Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, Othello, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra).
Ivo van Hove opened the 2016 Avignon Festival with a phenomenal stage presentation, his ruthless vision of Visconti’s 1969 film The Damned, performed by the Comédie Française. He also shows up where least expected, namely the opera: Lulu by Alban Berg and Wagner’s four-opera Ring cycle. His recent presentation of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge marked his extraordinary Broadway début, and was rewarded with two Tony Awards in 2016. He works closely with the New York Theater Workshop, where he has directed nine plays over the past 16 years. Reworking classics of both theatre and cinema, he has made theatrical adaptations of films by Bergman, Cassavetes, Pasolini and Antonioni. He also directed the stage musical of Lazarus, one of David Bowie’s last works.
You came to the FTA in 2010 with three plays by Shakespeare, and are now returning with a new trilogy about three passionate figures who obtain and wield power in very distinct ways. What does Shakespeare, dead these past 400 years, have to say to us today?
Everything, absolutely everything. When rereading his work, I always get the same impression that I’m reading a contemporary text addressing issues that are pertinent to its era, of course, but that are still very important today. Roman Tragedies was a show about politics and politicians, their good and their bad decisions. In the case of Kings of War, however, the theme is leadership. For me, that term implies having a vision for the future; not merely governing today, but also making decisions with the future in mind. That’s what interests me in Shakespeare’s plays, for here are three completely different examples of leadership.
Henry V liked to party and to hang out with his friends, he didn’t take life seriously. Then his father died and he became a model leader. At times he made extreme decisions such as going to war, but decisions not based on vengeance. He simply believed that war was a step required to obtain peace. He asked questions, wrestled with doubt and made decisions after weighing all the pros and cons. To watch the play is to witness the development of a great leader.
Henry VI is an extremely devout Christian. He is in direct contact with God, without being totalitarian. He does not ponder, he prays. He makes no decisions, and as a result is dominated by his adversaries. He ends up losing power, reduced to merely signing decrees, and chaos quickly ensues. Henry VI is a demonstration that religion, which its strong emotional charge, is not a good guide when it comes to making decisions.
And lastly we have evil incarnate in the person of Richard III, whose lifelong ambition was to be crowned king, simply to have power as an end in itself. He views power as devoid of meaning; he wanted it and he got it. He opts for murder, always his preferred tactic. The only thing he knows is how to destroy, for he has no vision of the future. Henry V has clear views about the future of his people as does Henry VI, who wants to unite society through religion. Not the case for Richard III.
It seems clear that at present we are looking for a new way of governing. The extreme right is resurgent all over the world, in the U.S. with Trump’s America-first policies, and also in Germany in its recent elections. Shakespeare holds out a mirror to observe the problems of our times, as well as possible solutions. He is not pessimistic; there is a lot of hope in his plays, and indeed the piece ends in a burst of hope. I strongly believe that to be necessary. I am convinced that there is meaning to being in this world. At times our lives seem to have no importance in history, but I think that we have a reason for being on this earth. Artistic creation itself brings hope and that means progress. It means that we can change things, sometimes for good.
Presented in its entirety the trilogy lasts at least 24 hours. Here at the FTA you are presenting a 4-hour version. What did the editing process entail?
The major theme is leadership and that dominated all decisions, so all the war scenes were cut – no combat, no fight scenes. Shakespeare’s representation of the War of the Roses was not important to us. I worked with two dramaturges, one of whom had the enormous task of condensing all three parts of Henry VI. We concentrated on the leaders, completely isolated from the world. When great kings make major decisions, they do so in closed rooms hundreds of miles from the battlefield. There is constant talk of war, but war is never seen. It is other people who die, but offstage and far away.
You work in many different parts of the world on a variety of projects: classical and contemporary works, operas, etc. What motivates you to accept one project rather than another? Is it a decision based purely on instinct?
Generally my choices are guided by my interest in making the classics contemporary, giving them a contemporary language and environment. I also present a lot of films as stage works, and am currently working on Network for the National Theatre in London. It’s about the world of television, and was a 1976 film directed by Sydney Lumet. Once again, a story about power.
“The first great theatrical work of the Trump era.”
The New Yorker, 2016-11-11
“Kings of War takes the home-viewing pleasures associated with serial television portraits of cutthroat schemers, like those in House of Cards and The Sopranos, and magnifies them to the proportions of grand opera.”
New York Times, 2016-11-04
“A wonderful study of the modern ruling class […]. Van Hove’s production highlights Shakespeare’s profound understanding of the role of naked power-hunger in the body politic.”
The Guardian, 2016-05-01
“This marathon production is both mordant and mesmeric.”
The Independent, 2016-04-25
“This is Shakespeare for the 21st century, shorn of majesty, unlovely and horribly familiar. (…) It’s realised with ingenuity, intelligence and verve: a hurtling history play for today.”
The Times, 2016-04-25
“Van Hove’s production is utterly engaging. (…) Van Hove’s compression of the histories is a timely reminder that across the centuries, Shakespeare’s knowledge of the human heart remains unwithered by age, unstaled by familiarity.”
The Telegraph, 2016-04-23