When was the last time you watched something in “real life”?
Nowadays we spend so much of our time at watching the latest Netflix series on TV screens and our favourite YouTube shows on computer screens. We love to consume visual content and entertainment but we rarely experience this live in a raw, uncut way.
This realisation was the main inspiration for our latest Creative Excursion at VBAT, a trip in December to the impressive Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam for the performance of Ibsen Huis: “a story of the troublesome but inevitable coexistence of different generations under one roof” produced by the esteemed International Toneelgroep Amsterdam (ITA) and directed by the Australian director Simon Stone. The performance itself is an adapted, modern interpretation of several plays by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
“Stone has absorbed Ibsen completely and wrote an entirely new play in close dialogue with the ensemble. ‘Rehearsing and writing are both one uninterrupted dialogue with the actors and contributors. The most important thing is to continuously find out more about the characters, so they become complex and genuine, but also as playful and humorous as possible.’”
“The theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.”
One of the reasons we chose this particular performance was for the stage/set-design; an imposing, rotating house which throughout the 3 hours and 35 minutes became the main character. A non-human structure made of wood, metal and glass was the protagonist and the facilitator of both the jubilations and despair of each characters individual story, at times full of life and light, others, empty; both physically and metaphorically.
The notion of time was something that played a big part in the experience of the performance as it was non-chronological with scenes changing from the 1960s/70s/80s and then to present day requiring us to pay close attention to the story. At times the house would spin around to reveal a new scene in a different time with different characters which made the date change very clear however later on in several highly-charged scenes it began to switch dates almost between each line without any warning; at times there was two actors on stage, playing the same person but the younger and older version and even talking to each other (aka themselves but across different time periods); quite confusing to follow but it all added to the experience i.e. trying to understand what was actually happening.
There was a certain charm with the performance being entirely live and all the things that go with that. There were some genuine accidental moments which gave a certain rawness and realness which you don’t get in pre-recorded performances where they can be re-shot if it doesn’t quite go right. And also the un-scripted and improvised elements, towards the end there were some serious arguments which became very intense and emotional–it felt like real hatred and became slightly uncomfortable to watch; especially given the dark and wicked story which began to slowly reveal itself.
The aim of our Creative Excursions is to explore something creative which is outside of our immediate graphic design work and to see how we can learn from it. From a creative/design point of view it was interesting that the architecture and design of the house was not only there to facilitate the performance being visible to the audience through the huge panes of glass and open-plan layout but that it was a key part of the story line.
As expressed in the story, the house was a revolutionary design at the time for its Scandinavian style, something not seen in Holland in the 1960s when the story took place with one character even saying something along the lines of “this is Holland, we build houses from bricks, not glass”. Several of the characters were the architects and designers of the house and spoke about the trials and tribulations of its design and construction, arguing about how it didn’t work or how it was ahead of its time etc.
All in all it was a unique experience from both the theatrical aspect; i.e. actually going to watch a live performance with real actors and also from the design aspect; how can the stage/set-design play such an important part throughout the performance. There is a lot more that can be said about the performance and storyline but its difficult to not give away any spoilers, so lets leave it at that.
There are no plans for Ibsen Huis to be back on stage in the near future, in Amsterdam at least, but it could make a return and if it does, look out for it as it’s a roller-coaster of emotions and definitely worth a watch.
“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”