In praise of… The Barbican Theatre, London

As someone who suffers with an appalling sense of direction, I still find The Barbican building a total nightmare to navigate: I go to the loo and can’t find the theatre again, never mind my actual seat…

BUT – OMG – I’ve had some of my best theatrical experiences ever there: particularly during their International Theatre residencies.

Last month, Simon McBurney with Theatre de Complicite and Schaubühne Berlin presented Beware of Pity (unbelievably brilliant) and Richard III. And then Ivo van Hove and Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s residency continued with Roman Tragedies. Six hours of relentless, thrilling action based on Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra – in Dutch. There was no interval other than set changes of between two and ten minutes when the audience were encouraged to change seats, or wander around on stage, buy snacks, charge their phone, hang out on sofas surrounded by the actors and the action, OR dash to the loo (and hopefully find their way back). There were massive TV screens everywhere with surtitles in English, live footage of the action on stage and on other screens, rolling news clips often featuring Trump. The action (filmed) spilled out in to the audience even to the street outside…

Ivo van Hove writes:

My interest in Shakespeare’s Roman plays was their politics: politics as mechanism, not psychology. My aim was to show how political mechanisms work, how decisions get made. You commit a murder, but you do it for political reasons.

I was spending a lot of time in the US, where 24-hour news completely dominates, and so we came up with the idea of doing a marathon performance over six hours, no intermission. I wanted it to be continuous; you could come in and out, just like real life. You can’t imagine political life without the media any more. Every speech is manufactured for TV. So for us, the role of the media was crucial: we wanted there to be a lot of screens and scrolling information boards. After that, the idea of using audience members as the citizens seemed obvious. We brought them up on stage, then built a bar and couches for them to sit on and walk around. They became involved in the political process too.

Rarely have I experienced such excitement, and interest from a whole audience. I know these Roman plays fairly well, but this production made them clearer than ever before – more thrilling,  more ambiguous, and certainly more politically relevant.

After 6 hours everyone was up on their feet – cheering.

THANK YOU,  Shakespeare, Ivo van Hove, Toneelgroep Theatre Company, and THE BARBICAN!

Jennie

LAST CHANCE TO BOOK: Drama School Audition Technique Workshop, 25th – 26th March, London! Click here for more information!

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