“Ik was. Ik ben. Ik was. Ik ben.”
As soon as I booked my first theatre trip to Amsterdam I knew it would be a slippery slope and to be honest, there’s little resistance at all from me now (just my wallet) as I browse Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s website and figure out how many trips to the Netherlands it is reasonable to take in one year… This year, the UK has been blessed with a rare foray into English-language work by Ivo van Hove with a blistering take on A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic, so it seems only fit that my return to the Stadsschouwburg should introduce me to a new director, Guy Cassiers, who delivers Hamlet vs Hamlet in a stunning installation-like set design by Ief Spincemaille.
The show is a co-production between Toneelgroep Amsterdam and the Flemish Toneelhuis (whom Cassiers leads) and Tom Lanoye’s adaptation plays fantastically fast and loose with the play as we know it, toying with our presumptions about what is happening/will happen and introducing a fascinating note of intrigue into a play that is normally so familiar. Combined with the linguistic challenge (this performance, as are several others on Thursdays, was surtitled in English) I loved the level of bamboozlement that came from these changes, the way in which it completely confounded expectations feeling more adventurous than anything we’d ever see at the National.
So we get Abke Haring’s strikingly androgynous Hamlet, her portrayal of the prince’s identity crisis gaining extra currency and depth as more seems to be being called into question, Eelco Smits’ Laërtes and Gaite Jansen’s Ophelia’s sibling connection has an explicitly incestuous bent, Yorick is a character we seem, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a genuine double act, there’ s just huge amounts of invention here that elides into a most cerebral take on Shakespeare’s work. Consequently it sometimes feels a little clinical but it is never less than fascinating.
One of the real pleasures in becoming a fan of an ensemble like this is becoming familiar with the actors and sure enough, several of them have become real favourites. Here, Chris Nietvelt’s Gertrude and Roeland Fernhout’s Polonius were standouts for me as they have been previously, to the point where I just watch them rather than read the surtitles. There’s a delicious pleasure in just listening to the rhythm of theatre in different languages and feeling the emotion in a more visceral manner. It helps of course to be in familiar territory with the Bard but it remains a sufficiently thrilling experience to keep me coming back.