Review: After The Rehearsal / Persona, Barbican

“Als ik, heel even maar desnoods, mijn masker zou afzetten en zou zeggen wat ik voelde of dacht, zouden jullie je razernij tegen mij keren”

Toneelgroep Amsterdam have made the Barbican their base pretty much every time they’ve visited London, so it was little surprise that is where their 2017 residency was announced. We say residency, the peripatetic nature and ferocious workrate of this Dutch company meaning that it contained three shows spread over six months (Roman Tragedies, Obsession, and this Ingmar Bergman double bill) all of which have managed to provoke strong opinions.

I’d be fascinated to know the reason behind choosing After The Rehearsal / Persona out of all of the shows in their considerable repertory (it also tours to Santiago, Chile and Washington DC). Created in 2012, it brings together two pieces written for the screen by the Swede into a long haul of an evening, close to three hours of occasionally impenetrable Swedish existential angst. It contains some of the directorial flourish that has made van Hove’s name, plus it stars the remarkable Marieke Heebink but there’s no denying I found it a challenge. 

van Hove clearly has an affinity for Bergman (as evidenced in the truly stunning Scenes From A Marriage) but I have to be honest and say I just don’t know much of his work. So I can’t talk with any authority on the nature of the adaptations here, the debt owed to Strindberg, even simply where the faultlines might lie in terms of what didn’t work for me. (It’s been interesting though to see the divergence in which of the two pieces critics have preferred.)

What I can say is that I was more a fan of After the Rehearsal with its meta discussion of theatre and how directors and performers relate to audiences. This tricksily enmeshed trio of personalities sparkle in the hands of Heebink, Gaite Jansen and Gijs Scholten van Aschat as the auteur struggling to draw the line between rehearsal and reality. Persona, featuring the same 3 plus Lineke Rijxman has a stunning design coup de théâtre but little else to reward. 

So a bit of a frustrating evening all told, and all the more so for the riches that could have been showcased by the company. Heebink’s extraordinary Medea for Simon Stone or Sam Gold’s Glass Menagerie or from van Hove himself, his most influential Mary Stuart or any of his Rattigan-like revivals of Louis Couperus’ novels. But different strokes for different folks eh, and now we wait for his return to the National with Network

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Photos: Jan Versweyveld
Booking until 30th September

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