Kings of War
Director: Ivo van Hove
Writer: Bart Van den Eynde, Peter Van Kraaij, Rob Klinkenberg
Based on: William Shakespeare‘s Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III
Cast: Kitty Courbois, Hélène Devos, Fred Goessens, Janni Goslinga, Aus Greidanus jr., Robert de Hoog, Hans Kesting, Hugo Koolschijn, Ramsey Nasr, Chris Nietvelt, Alwin Pulinckx, Bart Slegers, Eelco Smits, Harm Duco Schut
Part of: Wiener Festwochen
Seen on: 7.6.2015
Henry V ascends the throne after his father’s death a little too young, but he matures into a King who leads Great Britain into war with France that he wins. But once his son, Henry VI, follows him on the throne, the power Henry V built starts to crumble. Henry VI is weak, easily swayed and not interested in ruling at all. That gives the House of York the opportunity to take over the throne, first with Edward IV as King. But Edward is betrayed by his younger brother, Richard III, who cruelly deposes him and takes over the power.
Kings of War takes three of Shakespeare’s plays and bundles them into one theatrical evening – a long one. While it is interesting to see the plays forming such a coherent whole, it’s extremely dense – and I admit that I left about half an hour or so before it ended because I just couldn’t take it anymore.
The production wasn’t bad, not at all. The cast was fantastic and Hove creates not only a coherent play out of three, but also chose one setting for all three plays: a war room, largely the same for each King but with slight alterations for each of them. Everything that has to take place outside of a war room is relegated to a long white hallway behind the stage, captured by camera and projected on a huge screen onstage.
I really liked the use of film that way, although they often focus on the faces of the dead in the play – and I could have done with fewer close-ups of blue-from-strangulation faces. And in some scenes it didn’t become clear to me why they were relegated to the white hallway instead of staying on stage where they might as well have happened.
But as I said three Shakespeare plays in one night is a difficult affair. For me to see it all, it would have been necessary to either further shorten the plays (since they are so heavy on the monologues, just get rid of a few of those) or to diviide it into three evenings after all. Or at least two, since the first two plays – Henry V and Henry VI actually worked very well together. But I was just too tired for Richard III to pay him much attention. And since the last subway stop crept closer and closer, I decided to leave early.
But even if the plays had been shorter/divided on more evenings, I don’t think I would have loved them to bits either – I’m just not that enthusiastic about Shakespeare’s history plays, as far as I know them. Plus, and this is nobody’s fault, but that’s the way it was, it was a little confusing to watch the play in Dutch, since it always felt like I could understand them when they were talking [because it’s so similar to German] but then I never could. I just got bounced back and forth between the languages and it didn’t make watching any easier.
The problem is when you’re so busy with just processing what you’re experiencing, you hardly have time to think about the plays. And that is just a waste.