Belgian director Ivo Van Hove was hailed as a veritable theatre god following his inaugural British production, the Young Vic’s earth-shattering 2014 revival of Arthur Miller’s ‘A View from the Bridge’.
The years since have shown him to be more human than that: there’s been some great stuff (‘Hedda Gabler’, the revival of ‘Roman Tragedies’), some divisive stuff (‘Lazarus’), and some dodgy stuff (‘Antigone’, ‘Obsession’) – he's good, but he doesn't strike gold every time.
‘After the Rehearsal/Persona’ is a double bill of Ingmar Bergman adaptations by Van Hove and his company Toneelgroep Amsterdam. And to be honest, it’s a bit of a slog.
Sloggiest by far is ‘After the Rehearsal’, a piece about, er, genius theatre directorHendrik (Gijs Scholten van Aschat), who engages in convoluted, sexually charged badinage with young actress Anna (Gaite Jansen), who is attempting to ascertain whether he had a thing with her mother Rachel (Marieke Heebink).
There’s a handful of cool Hovian flourishes, notably the rock-infused soundtrack, but mostly it's dry as a bone and almost bafflingly deadpan (it’s really not clear what’s going on when Anna suddenly appears, seen only by Hendrik). There are also lots of icky old tropes about tortured male geniuses and their hot female muses and, while I suspect there’s a subversive, deadpan humour running through it all, Van Hove is not your go-to man for chuckles.
Far, far better is ‘Persona’, a cryptic drama about a young nurse, Alma (Jansen) tasked with looking after an older actress (Heebink) who has, mysteriously, stopped speaking.
Charged and creepy, it boasts a spectacular watery set from Jan Versweyveld, and a terrific performance from Jansen as Alma, whose inhibitions melt away when the two women head to a lake house retreat. The older woman’s silence is not necessarily the innocent thing it appears to be, in a piece that reveals itself to be a more appealing, more mysterious, less blokey mirror to ‘After the Rehearsal’’s meditations on art, inspiration, public selves and private selves.
The most frustrating thing about the endeavour is the feeling that it’s symptomatic of Van Hove’s current predilection for adapting slightly unsuitable films into plays. Still, following the chore of ‘After the Rehearsal’, ‘Persona’ is a reminder that the magic is still there, just sometimes diverted down frustrating routes.