Features Q&A and Interviews Published 14 February 2011

Ivo van Hove

On Toneelgroep Amsterdam and “bad-boy avant-gardism”.

Sam Smith

Put another way, van Hove always develops those aspects of a film that he feels will create a worthwhile theatrical experience. The fact that his work represents the first time that they have ever been staged is part of the excitement. Unlike with Macbeth or any other mainstay of the theatre, his creation constitutes a true premiere in every sense: “You really have to think for the first time about how to put these pieces on the stage because it is a totally different language to film.”

Van Hove feels that the language in the Antonioni films is quite simple, but that theatre’s task is to bring out what is written between the lines. That is why, as with many of his projects, the characters are filmed live and their images projected instantaneously onto a large screen. He stresses that he has no interest in showing off plush technology for its own sake. The film is there to bring the audience closer to the story and the people, and to emphasise the characters’ despair and superficiality. As a result, the filming techniques alter throughout the evening as the dramatic requirements change. A party scene produces one long take (as a steadicam might achieve), while the ending sees the actors play mainly behind the screen so that the film, through close-up, dominates and reveals every single eye movement.

Van Hove’s other unqualified hit in Britain was Roman Tragedies. This saw Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra performed over six hours with no intervals, the scenes once again being filmed live. Van Hove explains that the initial idea came to him in a weekend because he wanted to direct Antony and Cleopatra. As he began to research it he got excited by its connections with the other works and so the idea to perform all three of Shakespeare’s ‘Roman Tragedies’ was born.

Roman Tragedies

He recalls telling his cast and crew when they were gathered for the first reading that he planned to stage them all without pause, and being met with a stunned silence that signalled disbelief. By the time he had told them there would be settees, food outlets and internet cafes on the stage and that the audience could sit or wander around the stage at will “they thought I was crazy”.

But van Hove by his own admission is “fearless”. He says he can have sleepless nights over whether, for example, anyone will come to a play, but never over the process of putting one together. He emphasises, however, that fearlessness does not equate to ruthlessness: “I always consider and reconsider what I do very carefully. I know very well why we do what we do, and I have the best actors around.”

This final comment relates to something that comes up time and again during our conversation. Van Hove never underestimates the importance of his actors, and has built up fruitful long-term relationships with many leading performers in the Netherlands, America and elsewhere. In 2009 he directed the film Amsterdam which focuses on a disparate group of characters in the city whose lives all become intertwined. When I ask what he brought to the film from theatre he says “the actors”, since he introduced many whom he knew from a variety of countries.


Sam Smith is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine



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