In a Festival glutted with plays about war and the violence wrought by powerful men, Dutch theatre company Toneelgroep’s Kings of War stands tall. A four-and-a-half-hour conflation of Shakespeare’s Henry V, Henry VI, and Richard III, it is directed by Ivo van Hove whose monumental Roman Tragedies – which conceived Shakespeare’s Roman history plays as an immersive treatise on contemporary power politics – was seen in Adelaide in 2014 in a production that has, rightly, acquired almost legendary status.
Kings of War wears the same spots. Returning audiences will recognise Bart Van den Eynde and Peter Van Kraaijs’s lightly modernised text (Dutch with English surtitles), van Hove’s filmic sense of space, and his liberal use of live sound and supersized video, much of it captured by a roving cameraman. While both works are epic in scale and concerned with the machinations of leadership and power, Kings of War feels leaner, its sweep more contained, running almost two hours shorter and lacking some of the Sturm und Drang of its predecessor. The women’s roles are more attenuated here: good parts, like the fierce, intelligent Margaret of Anjou – superbly played by Janni Goslinga – feel less significant than they do in Shakespeare’s plays, and there is none of the Roman Tragedies’ enlivening gender-swapping, which saw, for example, a female Cassius in Julius Caesar.