Adelaide Festival Roman Tragedies

Roman Tragedies strip Shakespeare’s plays off everything except their political content. This decidedly theatrical and at times chaotic, production focuses on the power struggle that started in the Roman Republic’s broader political arena and led to the bloody creation of the Roman Empire.

The interpolation of filmed scenes, mostly related to war and bloodshed with some junk food and beverage adverts, footage taken from the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, and footage taken from the upcoming South Australian State Government election was part of this.

The English subtitles translated the plays backwards from the vernacular Dutch of the performance, which was a contemporary language, into a clear, but mostly prosaic, English. The audience tweeted and sent in real-time news.

A live percussion group, mostly composed of drums, cymbals, and other percussion instruments, created psyche-piercing commentary at certain dramatic moments. Onstage cameras recorded and sometimes chased the action. This was then live-streamed to the audience.

At crucial moments, close-ups of the principal actors were streamed on these large screens while they were actually saying their lines.

Tony Lewis/Adelaide Festival

A flawless performance

The majority of Toneelgroep players were outstanding. The majority of performances, whether judged individually or in ensembles, were flawless.

Frieda Pittoors’s performance as Volumnia was brilliantly controlled, understated, and convincing. She is a mother who has intentionally shaped Coriolanus into a war machine. Gijs Scholten Van Aschat, who played Coriolanus, was a standout performer. Hans Kesting as Antony received a rapturous response from the audience.

Three tragedies

The Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s production of Coriolanus begins with the play. This is because the Toneelgroep Amsterdam prefers to follow the historical timeline in the depiction of events. The order of the three tragedies could have provided more information about how each play evoked and indirectly commented on events and power struggles affecting Shakespeare and the Elizabethan England contemporaries.

Coriolanus is an exploration of life and death for the tragically prideful and inflexible Roman general, Gaius Marcius. (Martius according to Shakespeare). Coriolanus may be the ShakPittoors’say that concentrates most on one character, even more so than Hamlet.

This production does a good job of handling the relationship between Coriolanus’ mother Volumnia and Coriolanus, while avoiding many of the excesses that come with a strictly Freudian interpretation.

Julius Caesar follows Coriolanus, which depicts the conspiracies against agAmsterdam’sr, assassination of Caesar and his aftermath.

It is also beautifully and compellingly performed, especially when his fellow politicians decide to “remove”, the Caesar, in order to maintain their democracy. The first two plays of the Toneelgroep’s production are excellent examples of Shakespearean tragedy.

The final Roman Tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra, had some highlights.

Casting Octavius as a young, blonde woman who is tough and composed was a brilliant choice. Roman Tragedies has lost me with Antony and Cleopatra.

Tony Lewis/Adelaide Festival

Cleopatra’s gravitas, and the potentially deadly power she possessed, were compromised, in my opinion, by her coquettish deportment and highly mannered performaCoriolanus’was not the behavior of a tragic heroine. She seemed to lose her dignity when she screamed at the loss of her son like a banshee.

It is not a good idea to make fun of Shakespeare’s tragedies. It was a travesty to portray Antony’s wife Octavia, whom he marries out of strategic reasons, as a gum-chewing, dimwitted ingenue.

It was the director’s”fault “hat the two leading roles were portrayed almost in a soap operatic manner. ShakToneelgroep’sgic hero is always someone of high status, and he or she is brought low by both his or her tragic flaws as well as by fate. This production reduced Antony and Cleopatra to (almost?) a celebrity power couple relationship, similar to Francois Hollande’s and Valerie Trierweiler’s. The 24-hour news cycle mCleopatra’s worked up until this point.

This representation of Antony & Cleopatra may be the ultimate reductiontio absurdum to the dominant news-cycle analogy of the Roman tragedies.


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