Roman Tragedies | Toneelgroep AmsterdamPhoto – Jan Versweyveld

Toneelgroep Amsterdam's Roman Tragedies happening has been critically acclaimed around the world. On the evidence of today's performance it's not difficult to understand why. But is it arts for art's sake?

Director, Ivo van Hove, condenses three of Shakespeare's plays,Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony & Cleopatra, into a solitary 6-hour production. The actors speak Dutch; surtitles in English present a contemporaneous modification of the Bard's original words. 

Many of the elements the production uses have been done before. Shakespeare's archaisms removed and language modernised. The cast in business suits, TV screens flashing live feeds and giving the audience and immersive experience have all been used previously. However, this company uses them in such a fashion that it's a genuine event. The result is a kind of reality TV social experiment in which the audience is allowed to move freely between the auditorium and the stage. Theatregoers can even buy food and drink, take advantage of open wifi to update facebook and twitter as they track the exploits throughout the performance. All the while, monitors, a red news-ticker and the surtitles enhance understanding and experience. 

For nearly 6 hours the three plays are continuously performed without an intermission and each melds into the other. But the audience is liberated to take advantage of short set change breaks to move around, change seats and grab refreshments. In many respects it harks back to Elizabethan England when theatre was a social event. But now, there are multimedia screens and camera close ups so that even in the foyer bars no one misses a thing.

The set is like a large a grey, open plan office with low-blacked sofas sprinkled about; where anyone can sit and absorb the atmosphere as the crowd and the actors mingle throughout the performance.

Roman Tragedies is an outstanding success, in part because of its inventiveness, but also because of its execution. It's pure imagination which is aided by the strong ensemble and their fine acting. Some will find the occasion extremely entertaining and highly diverting but others will quake as the butchery of the Bard's text. No matter one's opinion, it is still worth being taken on the journey.

Toneelgroep Amsterdam
by William Shakespeare

Directed by Ivo van Hove

Venue: Festival Theatre | Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates: 28 Feb – 2 Mar 2014
Duration: 6 hours (no interval, short breaks)
Tickets: $159 – $50

Part of the 2014 Adelaide Festival

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