Review: Age of Rage, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam

7 Greek tragedies in nearly 4 hours…Age of Rage is a hugely exhilarating and insightful piece of epic storytelling from Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican Centre

“Brother is afraid of brother
father of son
son of father”

It is probably a sign of how in thrall I am to Ivo van Hove’s directiorial innovation that when the god Apollo took a tumble off the stage towards the end of Age of Rage, I really wasn’t sure whether it was intentional or not (I’m still not, I see it as a sign that even the gods aren’t infallible). But whilst I am undoubtedly a fanboy, this show sees him return to the epic storytelling that Internationaal Theater Amsterdam does so very well (qv similar anthology works Roman Tragedies, Kings of War).

Here, van Hove and co-adaptor Koen Tachelet have smashed together seven Greek tragedies by Euripides and Aeschylus to tell the overarching story of the House of Atreus. And why wouldn’t you? It seems such an obvious idea, as to appreciate the events of Agamemnon, it helps to know what happened in Hecuba, to understand the the vengeful motivations of Electra and Orestes, knowing what passes in Iphigenia in Aulis is crucial. Altogether, they present a blistering portrait of a vicious cycle of violent retribution and power struggles.

But Age of Rage isn’t just daring in its construction, it is also audacious in its presentation – British theatre just doesn’t look, sound or feel like that hardly ever. Bone-shuddering hard rock from BL!NDMAN [drums] and composer Eric Sleichim ruptures the conventional theatrical atmosphere. Eloquent and extended choreography from Wim Vandekeybus pushes the physical storytelling in a visceral manner. And Jan Versweyveld’s design work is just beyond, part festival stage, part arena, part billboard, and full of surprises (ooh, the purple…!!)

With flashes of a helpful family tree popping up on the backdrop, the events of the seven plays are played out at breakneck speed. They’re necessarily compressed but room is still given to tease out the key emotional drivers. The irrepressible energy of the all-too-brief father/daughter relationship between Iphigenia and Agamemnon, the depth of Hecuba’s love for her children, the intensity of the connection between Elektra and Orestes, the real and perceived indignities that Clytemnestra endures as vengeance wrecks the family around her.

And I loved it, it is all just so exhilarating. The time flew by as the production’s energy fills the Barbican effortlessly and I was gripped from start to finish. I saw a large number of this company in Judas in Amsterdam last week and I’m in such admiration for the ITA ensemble, being able to hold performances like this in rep. Long time faves Hans Kesting and Chris Nietvelt were supreme as Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, Janni Goslinga’s Hecuba was ferociously good, and I loved Hélène Devos and Minne Koole as Elektra and Orestes, showing how a culture of violence can bleed down to all levels of society if that is how it is governed – a lesson from the Ancient Greeks that we’re still learning.  

Running time: 3 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Jan Versweyveld
Age of Rage is booking at the Barbican until 8th May

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