Review: Age of Rage, Barbican Theatre - mud, blood and flames in this fast-paced, powerful Greek tragedy epic
Ivo Van Hove is back at the Barbican with a bang and another epic, Age of Rage, which spans six Greek tragedies that follow the fall out of the Trojan war.
Well, actually, there is a bit of back story first, setting out the spark that ignited a chain of revenge before Paris lured Helen away from King Menelaus. It involves a son being fed to his father type of incident, something which is illustrated by meat being cooked on a flaming grill on stage as you arrive.
Fire is just the start for this tragedy of vengeance; blood won't so much be spilt as poured, and in the second half of the 3 hours and 45-minute play, the protagonists will be literally as well as figuratively mired in mud.
Combining the stories, Van Hove focuses on the anger and the violence it begets, but it isn't the male rage; it's the female.
Fathers sacrificing children to win wars has consequences beyond grieving mothers. Clytemnestra, Helen, Hecuba, Cassandra and Electra are thrust into the centre of the story. But they aren't merely ornaments and victims of male violence, abuse and ego, they are out for blood, and all have agency over what happens.
Van Hove mixes media to powerful effect. A large screen is used to show family relationships, and then the projected images of the innocent children appear following their slaughter, always dancing freely. A reminder of the vital life cut short or maybe a new found freedom from the violent mess of the world they've left behind.
At the edge of the stage, there are musicians, and the play starts with a heavy metal riff and growly lyrics. It is angry, muscular music, punchy music that sets the tone and energy of the piece serving to pick up the pace again at various points during the play.
It is one of many tools Van Hove uses to tell this story; another is movement, sometimes like a haka, strong, rhythmic, and occasionally intimidating in its display. It's a show rather than tell.
Ancient Greek storytelling styles are added to the mix. Traditionally violence happens off stage and then is reported. And so it is here. We also get both - the act itself, after which dead bodies are hoisted into the 'heavens', then get to hear how it is reported.
This is a production that pounds the senses. The sights, sounds and sometimes even the smell of smoke. It is a very physical play; even the tender moments have an urgency, a frantic pleading or passion, a desperate energy to them.
It adds to the pace of the piece, nothing lingers, and there is a constant feeling of charging onwards, an unstoppable force of murderous rage. Can it end, and if so, how do you break this cycle?
But end it does, and tonally it's like a reset, an exasperated parent trying to right things but leaving you with no doubt that there is something fundamentally flawed in the human psyche which will come back return to bite.
This is a packed 3 hours and 45 minutes (with one interval) that flies by. And it's getting ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Age of Rage, Barbican Theatre
Directed by Ivo Van Hove
Adapted by Koen Tachelet and Ivo van Hove
Running time 3 hours and 45 minutes with one interval
There are only four performances, with two left tonight and tomorrow - for details and to book tickets, head here to the website.
Age of Rage is performed in Dutch with English subtitles. Better to get tickets further back as the subtitle screen is high above the stage.
Are you a fan of big epic theatre productions like this? Have you seen any of Ivo Van Hove's? Age of Rage is not the longest play I've seen of his; that was Roman Tragedies which was 6 hours long (and also brilliant).
Eventful event theatre
Ivo Van Hove's epic always promises to be an event, but the performance I saw had an added something, as one of the actors accidentally fell off the stage. They reappeared soon after, so I think they were OK. It's the second time I've seen an actor fall off the stage, the first time, they fell on me. Yep.
Other Ivo Van Hove plays I've reviewed:
A Song From Far Away, Young Vic - the play that made me swear.
A View From The Bridge, Young Vic - amazing, just amazing
The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theater, New York - Yep, I went to New York, and this was definitely worth the cost of the flight and hotel.