“I arm myself with patience and await the higher powers.”
Whilst sitting in the audience for Roman Tragedies on Friday night and before it had even finished, I took advantage of the free wifi and booked myself into Sunday’s show, knowing I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see this most extraordinary of shows again. And instead of writing another review in which I’d just end up repeating myself, I thought I’d just jot down some of the thoughts that came to me both whilst rewatching and on reflection afterwards.
More shows should take the opportunity to provide in-show footnotes. Likewise, the dry voiceover dispensing witty advice in the interval pauses (don’t walk into the glass panels…) – I’d love to have something similar subtly ripping the piss out of Old Vic audiences. I also loved that it was Hans Kesting on mike duty here for the first couple of hours, it really reminds you how much of an ensemble Toneelgroep Amsterdam are, everyone pitching in at all levels. Similarly, Chris Nietvelt building up to her devastating Cleopatra with earlier parts as a wry newsreader and a galloping Caska.
It’s interesting to note that both times the Guardian has reviewed RT at the Barbican, it has been Lyn Gardner on duty – what does Billington have against it?!Second time around, I was much more up for taking photos and tweeting during the show; on Friday I was more concerned with making sure I didn’t miss anything and getting the full range of onstage seating experiences by moving at every break. By contrast on Sunday, I only went onstage for Julius Caesar and watched the rest from my seat in the auditorium – it was nice to have the choice of so much variety.
Volumnia really is a kick-ass role isn’t it? Is one of the memes of the year going to be productions openly acknowledging how baffling Shakespearean dialogue can be – Twelfth Night did it with boxtrees, AMND did it with extempore, and here it was being likened to an osprey, I do enjoy this lack of reverence.
Undoubtedly there is a conversation to be had about diversity and TGA – (the ensemble has predominantly been all-white I think) – but such dialogue must be accompanied by an understanding of the racial dynamics in the Netherlands and also the realities of signing actors up to year-long ensemble contracts. And lest we forget, van Hove has regularly cast actors of colour in his other productions – Sophie Okonedo as Elizabeth Proctor, Obi Abili in Antigone, Chuk Iwuji’s Lovborg, Iwuji and Aysha Kala in the forthcoming Obsession…A big shoutout has to go to videographer Tal Yarden whose efforts I gained a real appreciation for this time, in realising just how nuanced and intricate his design work is.
Far from simply putting up a live relay (although that is done late on in a hilarious out-of-doors sequence with Enobarbus), Yarden creates tableaux which are just as concerned with toying with our perceptions of space as van Hove’s concepts and Versweyveld’s sets are. Scenes like the triumvirate in conference (pictured below), Coriolanus meeting Aufidius, Mark Antony wheedling his way back into Cleopatra’s good books are given an alternative reality on screen as shots are spliced together to create a public image with a message versus the distance that is often there in reality – constantly thought-provoking work.
So there we have it, one of the greatest theatrical experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness and one which has stood the test of time in the 8 years since I originally saw it. I hope it isn’t 8 more years until I see it again!