Review: Tweeting, taking photos and the audience on stage, it's the Roman Tragedies experience, Barbican Theatre
Last year's King's of War, at four and half hours long, was just a warm up for Ivo Van Hove's Roman Tragedies in which Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra have been simmered down to a six hour single play. But this isn't just six hours of Shakespeare in Dutch (with English subtitles) Van Hove has taken the notion of a theatre 'experience' (read: long or multiple plays in one day) and then broken the taboos of theatre-going.
Phone off during the performance? Oh no, tweeting and taking pictures is actively encouraged. The traditional 15-20 minute interval has been replaced with a series of 3-5 min scene changes - the voice of an MC tells you how long until the next one. Not that it matters, you can pop out to stretch your legs or take a comfort break whenever you like.
After the first scene change you can change seats or even opt to find somewhere to perch on stage if you wish. There isn't on-stage seating - this production has made that passé - you just find a chair or sofa or something else that is part of the set. There's even a café/bar counter towards the wings where you can purchase a drink or a snack to enjoy during the performance.
Because the Barbican stage is so big and the set made up of different areas Van Hove once again uses camera's to beam close ups of the actors on a large screen above the stage so you never miss a thing. Once the audience is invited up they become part of the spectacle their reactions and concentration caught in the close ups. It raised a few laughs at times.
All this serves to put Roman Tragedies firmly on the awards list for 'theatre experience of the year' and for very good reason. It is an experience and one you'll never forget. While it's not necessarily a production to see to get the nuances of the individual plays - there are periods where it starts to wash over you somewhat - you do, however, get a good sense of the narrative and dramatic tensions. And in allowing the audience on stage it serves to demonstrate how public politics and political life is.
It is a production with a handful of really memorable scenes (and moments of startling performance) rather than a whole. Hans Kesting, who was superb as Richard III in King's of War, in this plays Mark Antony in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra and pretty much steels the show. He got a spontaneous round of applause at one point.