Three political plays, hundreds of years old, one following the next with a running time of around 6 hours performed in throaty Dutch with English surtitles is – in a word; engrossing.
Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Roman Tragedies‘ explosive beginning slowly surrenders to something pleasantly hypnotic. But director Ivo Van Hove mixes things up with a series of perfectly timed surprises, to which the audience responded exceptionally well.
Roman Tragedies kicks off with Coriolanus then into Julius Caesar before finishing off with Antony And Cleopatra. Daunting yet thoroughly enjoyable, this is Shakespeare as Gore Vidal might write him – vivid, democratic and direct.
[pull_left]Daunting yet thoroughly enjoyable, this is Shakespeare as Gore Vidal might write him – vivid, democratic and direct.[/pull_left]
The programme officially sanctions audience members to sit, walk around, eat and drink on stage – there’s even an on stage bar and kitchens. There’s no intermission and the audience is encouraged to use social media during the performance. There are CCTV monitors on stage everywhere and facing the auditorium, which help propel the multimedia aspects of the show.
While the 24-hour global news cycle is a driving (and effective) force for much of the show, the actors are dressed as contemporary politicians and the language is modernised – none of Shakespeare’s original intentions are lost. The overall sense is one of being heavily involved in drama of epic proportions when the reality is we are mere observers to a show, actors and a script that wrenches Shakespeare out of ancient Rome and puts his universal themes and perceptiveness into the 21st century.
With three of The Bard’s plays and six hours of drama, highlights are bound to be subjective but Hans Kesting’s recital of Marc Antony’s memorial speech in Julius Caesar was emotionally and intellectually riveting.
The set is intelligent and relaxed with lounges and chairs and only one small, central area permanently off-limits to the audience. Some of the actors will sit and chat with audience members during brief scene changes and eye contact is often made between the actors and their audience during the drama.
Roman Tragedies is without doubt the pivotal theatrical production of the 2014 Adelaide Festival. Those lucky enough to see it from beginning to end will never forget it.