×

London Theater Review: Ivo van Hove’s ‘After the Rehearsal/Persona’

Ivo van Hove’s frosty Ingmar Bergman double-bill lets two cinematic classics bounce off each other.

Cinema has long been Ivo van Hove’s treasure trove. In turning to its old masters – Pasolini, Visconti, Cassavertes – the Belgian director has found new stories for the stage. He’s made Ingmar Bergman, in particular, his go-to movie man and, after adaptations of “Cries and Whispers” and “Scenes from a Marriage,” he pairs two of the Swede’s stand-alone films to find them rippling with reflections.

Persona” (1966) is the better known – a cinematic classic in its own right. In it, an experienced actress, Elisabet Volger (Marieke Heebink), is struck mute and ordered to an isolated island retreat with her young nurse, Alma (Gaite Jansen). It’s a cryptic, unnerving piece – Bergman refused to explain it in his lifetime – but it circles ideas of performance and identity, particularly for women in terms of aging and attraction. As the two women strike up a trust, even a friendship of sorts, they start to see themselves in each other.

“After the Rehearsal,” made for television 18 years later, treads similar ground. Set in a rehearsal room after-hours, it shows a middle-aged male director, Henrik Volger (Gijs Scholten van Aschat), seducing his latest starlet (Jansen), only to slip into a memory of doing the same with her mother (Heebink), an insecure alcoholic. Rather than jump-cutting off into the past, as Bergman did, van Hove lets past and present overlap and, once again, the two women, one old and one young, come to reflect one another.

By releasing these theater stories back into the theater, van Hove draws out their underlying quality – doubleness. (Pairing them up only doubles down on that.) Both dwell on the distance between being and seeming – specifically, the gap between the way we see ourselves and the way others see us – and that dynamic is integral to the stage. Both invoke the way we perform ourselves in real life – particularly for women, in light of the male gaze.

“After the Rehearsal,” first up, tunes us into that. Van Aschat’s director manipulates two performances from Jansen’s actress – one in her character, the other out of it, as she fawns for his favor. At times, he seems to slip into performance himself, playing the self-possessed, successful artist, holding forth on the art of acting as he keeps his evident insecurities at bay. A camera catches her watching – perhaps fascinated or maybe just feigning interest. Van Hove and designer Jan Versweyeveld layer up the artifice, turning the room into a film set of its own.

Her mother Rachel, by contrast, can’t hold herself back. A shambling alcoholic, she’s too drunk or too frail for that. Heebink’s fantastic – almost falling out of herself as she pleads for his attention. The sense is that she was his rehearsal; the practiced swagger of middle-aged men at odds with the brittleness of older women, tossed aside as their looks fade. The safe space of the rehearsal room is anything but.

Played back to back, “Persona” could almost pass for a sequel. Doubling collapses the distance between the two stories and their characters, and Heebink’s catatonic Elisabet – first seen naked on a hospital slab like a marble statue,caught between agony and ecstasy – could be some future version of her jangling Rachel, paralyzed by old anxieties. She’s superb twice over.

Our brain might fuse the two stories, but van Hove only overlays them. One echoes the other. Their patterns repeat – variations on a theme. Both are played in isolation – Versweyveld’s grey box doubles as rehearsal room and hospital ward, before the walls give way to show an island stranded in a spectral stage lake – and in mechanized environments. The director’s speakers and stage lights, so manipulative and dishonest, are replaced by nature’s wind-turbines and rain machines, as if he were playing God. In that, the two enrich each other’s ideas. The director’s overbearing male presence in “After the Rehearsal” makes its absence on the island in “Persona” all the more keenly felt. The plays perform in relation to one another.

It does, however, make for a long, arduous evening – and not just because it involves three hours of surtitles. For all their thematic resonance and the richness of thought, both are intricate encounters that struggle to sustain their drama. That’s as much about pace – van Hove keeps their climaxes in check – as it is about space. Their dense psychology diffuses on the vast Barbican stage. The characters seem smaller than they should – like figurines in a sculpture. Van Hove’s more interested in patterns than he is in people, and his staging’s so clinical it’s hard to care. Doubling deconstructs the ideas, but it disarms the emotions. Both films are meant to detonate alone.

“After the Rehearsal/Persona”
Barbican Centre, London; 1156 seats; £60 ($70) top. Opened, reviewed April 25, 2017. Running time: 2 HOURS, 50 MIN.

Production
A Toneelgroup Amsterdam production of two one-act plays based on films by Ingmar Bergman

Creative
Directed by Ivo Van Hove, Set design, Jan Versweyveld; translation (After the Rehearsal), Karst Woudstra; transation (Persona), Peter de Kraaij; lighting, Jan Versweyveld; sound, Roeland Fernhout; costume, An D’Huys

Cast
Marieke Heebink, Gaite Jansen, Gijs Scholten van Aschat, Lineke Rijxman

London Theater Review: Ivo van Hove's 'After the Rehearsal/Persona'

More Legit

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]

  • HBO's 'SUCCESSION

    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

  • Greta Gerwig and Oscar Isaac

    Greta Gerwig and Oscar Isaac to Star in Anton Chekhov's 'Three Sisters' Adaptation

    Greta Gerwig and Oscar Isaac are taking on an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” for New York Theatre Workshop in Manhattan. The company announced on Tuesday that they will feature two final performances to round out the 2019 to 2020 season, including the Chekhov play. “Three Sisters” will be directed by Tony award-winning Sam [...]

  • montreal just for laughs Comedy Festival

    Montreal's Just for Laughs Festival Is the 'Coachella of Comedy'

    Every summer, Montreal becomes the epicenter of the comedy world as the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival takes over the Canadian city. Now in its 37th year, the mindboggling scale of the festival is there in the numbers: more than 1,600 artists from across the globe (speaking English, French and other languages) performing 250 shows [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content