Two years ago Toneelgroep Amsterdam
excited Barbican audiences by involving them in the action literally:
they let us wander onto the stage and sit by performing actors, in
effect becoming the milling citizenry in the company’s staging of
Shakespeare’s Roman Tragedies
. This production is the opposite of that one in so many ways, yet its complement in others.
the six-hour-plus marathon staging of Shakespeare’s three plays one
after another, this version of Michelangelo Antonioni’s early-1960s
, La Notte
weaves characters and scenes from the three together into a
presentation the length only of any one of those films. Where
involvement was a keynote, this time the dominant tone is alienation.
Antonioni’s characters are distanced both from each other and from the
meaningful aspects of the world around them; they make sexual or
financial connections but not emotional or even intellectual ones.
As with The Roman Tragedies
director Ivo van Hove mediates events onstage by shooting them with
video cameras and projecting the result overhead. To that initial
process of distanciation, he now adds chroma-key matte techniques:
virtually the entire set is solid blue, of a shade that enables the
vision mixers who sit (more or less) in the orchestra pit to isolate
the figures of the actors and overlay them on pre-filmed location
footage. (Dutch actors playing Italian characters against the
background of an American city – more distancing.) After the initial
phase, this device is jettisoned: the vast video projection is used for
non-matte “establishing” shots, or to close up on one character in a
scene, or – in the second phase, at a party thrown by industrialist
Ettore – to peer around walls and show us encounters happening
offstage, sometimes contrasting those visuals with heated words being
exchanged onstage. Finally, the screen is lowered entirely, with most
of the final phase being acted out behind it, entirely out of our
direct sight but for the projection.
of these techniques normally infuriate me, as working entirely counter
to the theatrical fundamental of performers and audience occupying the
same space and time. But van Hove, crucially, constantly modulates his
situations to remind us that this is
a live event we are sharing… even as he prevents us from making that
full connection, so sharing also the characters’ own inabilities.
Written for the Financial