Posts Tagged ‘Ivo Van Hove’

Review – Hedda Gabler – Ivo Van Hove at the National Theater

December 8, 2016


Hedda Gabler. Ivo Van Hove. In no way were either of these things unknown quantities to me when I walked into the National Theater with the most expensive tickets I’d bought to see a show there all year (£39 , thank God for preview pricing!).

Ibsen is one of my favorite playwrights, and Hedda Gabler is the first play I ever saw by him. It established his presence in my developing mental landscape as someone who built complex characters and brought them to a boil in front of me. Ibsen had me asking myself as I walked out of the theater (some 20 plus years ago), “What was Hedda’s childhood like?” and this, the creation of a creature so real I could believe she had a childhood, marked him for me as a truly outstanding playwright. Hedda has reasons for acting the way that she does: I just don’t know them all.

And then there’s director of the moment Ivo Van Hove. I’ve heard his praises sung to the high heavens by Oughttobeclowns but to date I’ve found his production emotionally dry. Stylish, but not touching. Now, for the price I paid for View from the Bridge it’s possible that it could never meet my expectations (given how I feel about the script): Song from Far Away managed to turn suicide into a nap fest. But this was Hedda. I was ready to be blown away.

The set is bare and realistic; the white walls of an unfinished apartment, a very noticeable gun cabinet; nearly nothing to sit on anywhere; loads of flowers in buckets; and a patio window with blinds that gave the wonderful opportunity for light play (open! shut! open! shut!). In addition, the piano gives Hedda something to plink at while she’s being bored; and those flowers allow for some meta decorating of the apartment when she goes on a rant. Hedda: was rich, now isn’t, expects the world to be at her feet. She’s not meant to be sympathetic, not really; but she should be vibrant, and as Ruth Wilson inhabits the character, oh, she is, she is, she is, and she simply can’t be blamed for the overuse of Joni Mitchell (full credit for finishing with Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind,” though). With her mane of red hair, I saw her as the incarnation of Rita Hayworth as Glinda; beautiful and deadly (and never more so than when she’s pointing a pistol at Row W Seats 14 and 15, please do not be alarmed).

But the rest of it. Van Hove has, with muscle, dragged this play out of the Victorian era and into the modern; but Hedda’s boredom seems as unrealistic in modern times as the constant delivery of letters that really should have been phone calls. Hedda needs a TV and the internet and most of her boredom could be taken care of. And, transposed into the modern, the obsession with scandal and the deliberate choice to ignore the fact that, if you loathe your husband of six months than maybe it’s time for a D-I-V-O-R-C-E (this song was NOT chosen). But it doesn’t even come up. Miserable people in miserable marriages must stay married; lonely bored people need to sit inside and be sad because nothing is happening there; outside of the realm of the Tabloid newspaper, there is no scandal on the level that Hedda fears will come her way if her role in the death of her beloved ex-suitor Lovborg (Chukwudi Iwuji) comes to light. We have options available to us today.

But … I almost forgot that. Hedda was a bullied but I believed in Brack’s (Rafe Spall) ability and enthusiasm about spending years tormenting her. And sure it was a bit silly to have him spit blood red soda all over her dress but it was a lovely way to express how violated she now was. And with her narrow view of the world – one room only, and no TV – I felt her trapped, and I felt her animal like desire to be free, to leap over all of the walls and limitations drawn around her by the world she was born into. And, yeah, it was really good. It’s an excellent play and this production doesn’t stint. Just forget about cell phones for a few hours (thank God all of the audience managed to, somehow!) and it’s just about perfect.

(This review is for a performance that took pace on December 7th, 2016. It continues through March 21st. I have to add that I loved Sinead Matthews as Mrs Elvsted, with her raspy voice and blowsy hair and beautifully designed dress made to really emphasize her character – it’s a lesser role but her desperation felt so very real that … wow. Fabulous.)

Mini-review – Song from Far Away – Toneelgroep Amsterdam at The Young Vic

September 6, 2015

Right. You’re an international investment banker living in New York, and your brother has died.

You go home. Amsterdam. So many memories. Your family. So much baggage.

Sex. And death.

Watching this play, a love song to Amsterdam, an examination of how people handle the impact of death, I found myself admiring the simplistic design: a quarter room in which the protagonist sits, still, silhouetted; the other room, with beautifully reflective windows that sometimes show the snow and allow him to pontificate about what Dutch design has to say about Dutch values. And I slowly but surely found myself being lulled to sleep, a condition against which I fought courageously but not strongly enough.

I didn’t lose the words of this show as I flickered back and forth between consciousness and free association, but I was left as unmoved as the narrator. Death hurts; death is more than tears. Bella Heesom covered it far more emotively in My World Has Exploded a Little Bit and didn’t even need to charge us 35 quid or take her clothes off to get her point across; for Ivo van Hove to do both of these things and yet leave us at the end indifferent to our narrator seems positively criminal both artistically and creatively. The brevity of the piece did not stop other audience members from making their leaps at regaining those few lucky minutes granted to us on earth: I only wished I had joined them.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, September 5th, 2015. It continues through September 19th.)

Mini-review – View from the Bridge – Ivo Van Hove at Wyndham’s Theatre

March 11, 2015

Of the shows I chose to skip last year due to my ban on seeing any plays for a second time, the only one I really regretted missing was Ivo Van Hove’s production of A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic. Fortunately it came back for a second round in 2015 at the Wyndham’s Theater (but at greatly inflated prices). I decided to suck it up and fork over the (rather stunning amount of ) £60 to see the show, as several people had told me it was their production of the year – how could I give it short shrift?

Two nights later and I still feel bitter about this show and my misguided belief that it might ever have been possible to make a silk’s purse out of this sow’s ear. It was only a few years ago that I saw this play at The Duke of York’s, and I actually wasn’t eager to see this Arthur Miller work again. But now I can put my finger on a lot of what isn’t right with it. Neither Eddie Carbone, his wife or his niece seem like well-rounded characters; Carbone’s anger doesn’t make sense, wife Beatrice sees danger but is kept (by Miller) in the shade, and niece Catherine doesn’t seem to have nearly as much of an emotional connection to Rodolpho as she’s accused of.

But this production makes them even shallower and more unbelievable than they were written. Nobody sounds natural: these folks all have the accent of long term Brooklynites without a trace of their Italian ancestry. For the new arrivals from Sicily, the choice of thick American accents makes them cartoon cutouts – but then, Miller wrote them speaking English, somehow magically showing up in America completely fluent. And Catherine’s behavior, constantly leaping on her uncle and wrapping her legs around him – I found it just utterly unbelievable that any 17 year old would act this way. And putting her in skirts so short we in the audience could see her underwear as she crawled around the floor wiping up water – how much more did Van Hove need to sexualize Catherine? My stomach was turning a little bit. No wonder Beatrice saw fit to warn her that her behavior needed to change.

While the stark setting of this play (a grey low wall around 3/4 of the stage, a plain grey wall with an open door at the back, a chair) may have won it accolades, as I found myself caring less and less about the characters (as they receded from believability), I began to believe that it’s really just the setting that has convinced people that this show is great. It’s a real contrast with the National’s usual florid approach, but it’s hardly new to be stripped down, and it was done far more effectively for Belvoir Sydney’s Wild Duck. This play just doesn’t deserve the effort. Miller just wants to get to his plot points and his social pontification, to show “that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were.” But he does this lazily, with two dimensional people who become common (by dint of their poverty) without ever showing them enough care (as an author) to make them men. We, as an audience, get a stunt involving a chair being lifted off a stage and a final ending in which the cast is all showered in smelly, watered down red paint. All of this money and effort spent with so little result: truly, if ironically, this can be said to have been a tragic night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on March 20, 2015. Seats in the front five rows and possibly even further back will suffer from having the actors’ faces frequently cut off by the low grey wall. It continues through April 11.)