“I could die for you, but I couldn’t and wouldn’t live for you”
It feels almost heretical to say that one wasn’t blown away by an Ivo van Hove production but The Fountainhead managed that. In fact, it’s not even the first time, The Antonioni Project similarly failed to excite me in the same way that the best of his work with Toneelgroep Amsterdam has done. Linking these two shows is my lack of fore-knowledge of either, I’ve yet to see an Antonioni film and likewise, I’d never read Ayn Rand’s 1943 novel (mainly because people had told me it was such hard work).
Which isn’t to say that advance homework is absolutely necessary, there’s a whole world of thinkpieces to be written on enjoying or appreciating a work of theatre on its own merits, but that when that theatre is as multilayered and complex as van Hove is wont to produce (and also in a foreign language, I was at an unsurtitled performance for once), it can only help. As such, this delving deep into the world of anticollectivism was one of the more challenging four hours I’ve spent in a theatre.
It is stunningly mounted – Jan Versweyveld’s staging as technical as it is theatrical. Live video is manipulated on desks in front of us, sound consoles mix effects and live music with consummate skill, moving screens depict the action from a variety of angles, at its most arresting in a bird’s eye view. And though technicians are as in view as actors, they’re equally integral to the performance, their presence somehow simultaneously drawing us into the intimate detail yet holding us at arm’s length with an untouchable product.
And it is unquestionably performed well. At the heart of the intrigues of the story is Halina Reijn’s Dominique Francon, a vibrant figure full of sex and violence who connects much of what is going on (I think) partnering Ramsey Nasr’s visceral Howard Roark, the architect who believes fervently in moulding the world to his individual view and discarding anyone who doesn’t fit his egotistical vision. The tension in their relationship and his ethos is fascinating if not necessarily engaging, given how unlikeable everyone here is.
So even if it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I was glad to have seen The Fountainhead. I doubt even with reading it that I would have really liked it all that much more but the uniqueness of van Hove’s vision and the collective efforts of cast and creatives from the tirelessly inventive Toneelgroep Amsterdam makes watching even something quite objectionable an entertaining spectacle.