In Age of Rage director Ivo van Hove investigates what lies at the root of anger and violence. There is no better material than the ancient Greeks to investigate this matter: he forged no fewer than seven tragedies into an almost four-hour marathon performance. In it, violence is consistently presented as a legitimization of other violence. Victims – relatives, prisoners of war – become perpetrators, who in turn make new victims. “Blood for blood” pays the bill. With no less than eleven murders on the counter, Age of Rage a screeching vortex of violence, in an ever thundering marathon production that knows (too) little stillness.
what in Age of Rage on the surface, what appears to be a repetition of moves – retaliation leads to murder, murder to retaliation – does conceal a shift in motives. The first murder that is central to the performance – Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia, because according to the oracle the wind will rise then and his fleet can set sail – is on balance committed out of a display of power: Helena, the wife of Agamemnon’s brother, has been abducted by „Trojan barbarians”, and it should be clear to everyone that a Greek woman cannot be kidnapped with impunity. In addition, the military is increasing the pressure, and Agamemnon is sensitive to the mood of the masses.
The final murder is plotted by Elektra and Orestes, children of Agamemnon. They are after Helena, who started it all. For them, the violence does not arise from a display of power, not even from revenge: it is almost political. They feel oppressed, want to make their voices heard and assert themselves, and recognize that violence is a language that anyone can master, whatever social class you belong to.
Also read this long read: Seven weeks behind the scenes at Age of Rage by Ivo van Hove
In between, a chain reaction of murder and retaliation takes place: after a ten-year bloody battle, the Greeks take Troy. The daughters of Troy’s former queen Hekabe are raffled off and sacrificed, her son and grandson murdered. Back in Greece, Agamemnon is murdered by his wife Klytaimestra. She is then murdered by Agamemnon’s children Elektra and Orestes, who receive the death penalty and then decide to target Helena.
Age of Rage is a large-scale theater project in the spirit of Van Hove’s previous marathon performances Roman Tragedies (2007) and Kings of War (2016). Van Hove shows how the various tragedies are once again embedded in larger stories: when the audience walks in, actor Maarten Heijmans leisurely places pieces of limbs on a large barbecue in the backstage. He depicts Atreus, father of Agamemnon, who served his brother his own children as a meal and thus also forms a link in the chain of violence in the Atriden family.
Set designer Jan Versweyveld did not opt for a scenography full of realistic references this time, but designed an abstracted space, with earthly materials such as sand, dust, blood, fire, water and smoke as important elements. In the second half, a large part of the stage floor consists of a thick layer of smooth mud.
Where in recent years the work of Van Hove/Versweyveld has sometimes become a bit too aesthetic and distant (from an all too neat Freud to a lavish Death in Venice, in which the human scale was drowned in theatrical bombast), it may in Age of Rage getting dirty and lively again in the ITA ensemble. A relief: it produces raw and physical theatre, with a lot of pulling, dragging and poking among themselves. As Agamemnon’s brother Menelaos, Gijs Scholten van Aschat receives it from his fellow players – safely entrenched on the scaffolding at the sides of the stage – with large lumps of clay. Spectators in the front row are donned in a close-fitting protective suit for flying splashes.
Age of Rage has no fewer than thirteen actors, and that is not counting the three dancers and three musicians. Ilke Paddenburg impresses as Ifigeneia, who in the span of one scene transforms from a puppy-like young child who idolizes her father to a grown woman who accepts that she is going to die, and eventually even pleads for it. She makes that development through blind terror and total disillusionment, and she does so with complete credibility.
Strong play across the board. Hans Kesting is dangerously on track as (among others) Agamemnon. Chris Nietvelt, as Agamemnon’s wife Klytaimestra, is manipulative and dramatic in her grief. This also applies to Hélène Devos, who, benevolent and averse to vanity, revels in her anger and self-torture, but unexpectedly finds vulnerability in them.
Also read: How Jan Versweyveld creates his spectacular sets: ‘I always look for the essence of a place’
The scenes are interspersed with group choreographies by Wim Vandekeybus (depicting the grumbling, tormented and inciting masses) and brutal live doom metal, with Heijmans as the illustrious frontman.
It should be noted that the performance is very monotonous in terms of atmosphere and dynamics: the tempo is invariably high and Van Hove finds little variation in the dark, dramatic tones that he plays for almost four hours. Enhanced by the heavy metal, the dark lighting plan with lots of stroboscopic effects and the profuse projections on the huge video wall, Age of Rage the spectator unnecessarily dull.
Van Hove investigates which undercurrents of fear and dissatisfaction underlie anger. It is not far-fetched to see echoes of the recent pot-and-pan demonstrations on the Binnenhof in the collective clattering on the steel scaffolding, or the violence during the curfew riots. Indirect (and unemphatic) is Age of Rage therefore it is indeed topical: fear and dissatisfaction can become dangerous as soon as you ignore it or do not take it seriously. And finally the god Apollo put an end to the chain of violence in the lineage of Atrides, nowadays we will really have to bend it ourselves.
Also read: Ivo van Hove likes to remain a mystery, also for himself