Kings of War
Shakespeare + Ivo van Hove
24 – 27 juin 2018
The presentation of Ivo van Hove’s Kings of Wars at the 2018 FTA festival was a much anticipated event in Montreal. A boisterous standing ovation at the end of the play’s opening night performance sent a clear signal that the event did not disappoint. This revisiting and reworking of Shakespeare’s history plays Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III as a single, continuous work is a remarkable achievement. Due to the superb editing of the texts, the enticing set design and the formidable acting skills of all the cast members this marathon four-and-half hour performance is captivating throughout. The feat of boiling the intrigues of the three distinct plays down to a main storyline, driven by power intrigues and decision-making dynamics, greatly contributes to the riveting pace and dramatic charge of this impressive production. Through the dissection of the intimate workings of power, Ivo van Hove captures the timeless quality of Shakespeare’s work while at the same time making it relevant, almost chillingly so, to the current turbulence of our current geopolitical situation. This timeless yet up-to-date quality of Kings of War has much to do with the way the stage design and the video integration are interwoven to create a particularly rich setting to witness the political disintegration resulting from a downward spiral of unchecked passions and sinister ambitions. From the level-headed and astute Henry V, to the easily influenced and indecisive Henry VI and the ruthless and power hungry Richard III, the kings are depicted in a setting that echoes both their inner turmoil and the surrounding world that their decisions, or lack thereof, impact.
The clever set combines the main stage, consisting of a large room with a back hall, with a corridor space extending left and right that is made present via a large video screen. Ranging from a war room, to a bedroom, a living room and a bunker according to the successive reigns, the central physical action space is seamlessly integrated with the labyrinthine (video) halls where one alternately witnesses scenes of agonizing soldiers, a flock of sheep and a series of murders carried out of with a hypothermic needle, among other things. With its mid-century accents, made evident through the furniture styles and various onstage screens showing footage from 40s and 50s films, the stage design also contributes to a sense of time that floats between the situated and the perennial. These corridors of power thus provide an apt mirror for both the inward states of the respective kings and the outward disarray the country gradually sinks into. For instance the unraveling of Richard III, played with gusto and fevered conviction by Hans Kesting, is echoed by the progressive stripping of the living rooms to leave only a bare bunker space as the king’s murderous delirium drives him to ultimate defeat. This powerful depiction is just one among the many charged moments, alternating between comic and tragic à la Shakespeare, that makes Kings of War a remarkable and unforgettable journey through the halls of power and their timeless and contemporary inflections.