All images from dialogfestival.pl/en
Who Killed My Father
after the book by Édouard Louis
adapted and directed by Ivo van Hove from Édouard Louis ITA-ensemble
Translation, adaptation, and directed by: Ivo van Hove | with: Hans Kesting
scenography and lighting: Jan Versweyveld | costumes: An D’Huys | music: George Dhauw
producer: Ivo van Hove / ITA-ensemble | co-producer: deSingel Antwerp | private producer: Jeroen van Ingen and Jaap Kooijman, Bertil van Kaam
assistant director: Olivier Diepenhorst | assistant scenography: Bart van Merode | production: Inge Zeilinga, Edith den Hamer (hoofd) | head of technique & production department: Reyer Meeter | stage manager: Kevin Cuijvers, Bart Coenen, Zinzi Kemper, Manon van Nouland, Dennis van Scheppingen | costume department: Farida Bouhbouh, Wim van Vliet (hoofd) | photography: Jan Versweyveld
date of the premiere: 1.06.2020
What I Saw
Paige and I had seen Who Killed My Father at the Venice Theatre Biennale this summer directed by Thomas Ostermeier performed by the Louis himself. Obviously one of the things that struck me about this one-person theatre-text was that it drew two of the world’s greatest living directors to want to work on it! It was fascinating to see how different the two directorial approaches were.
Who Killed My Father is an intimate meditation on Édouard Louis’s growing up and his relationship with his father. On one hand, there is young Édouard who loves dancing to the song Barbie Girl and watching Titanic and on the other is his father who works in a factory and rages about his son’s “girlie” behavior. Édouard credits toxic masculinity with cutting his father off from the more sensitive side of himself and with dooming him to a life in a factory (instead of studying in school migh have led to other paths). Ultimately, the father is injured in an accident at the factory and between his accident, his constant smoking, and drinking, his body has been completely ravaged. The final nails in the coffin are placed by a series of French Presidents and the laws they passed taking away his father’s care and dignity.
In Ostermeier’s production, the author sits on a bare stage at a table with a computer and begins simply typing and talking about past events. He eventually gets up, dances, and becomes more physical, but the strength of the performance is in its utter simplicity and authenticity. In van Hove’s production, actor Hans Kesting sits on a run down bed with a bare mattress in a black room with holes punched in the walls. While Louis was telling stories from his point of view, Kesting embodies both the father and the son in turn. Kesting is definitely acting each moment as opposed to recounting the story. At the talkback, Kesting said that he suggested simply recounting the story, but that van Hove said, “No, you know that is not my kind of theatre, you have to act it.” That he does, and gives a truly, tour de force performance. He switches effortlessly from the father’s rage to the son’s fear, from moments of joy to moments of tenderness. There is a TV in the room and a lovely moment is when the son gets to watch Titanic for the first time and Kesting watches Titanic and tells us of his love for it at the same time. There are many moments of Kesting as the father propping the door open and smoking and coughing furiously. Another great moment is when the son starts dancing and a disco ball descends into the space transforming it into fragments of light. In the end, the father shows great love for his son and pride in his accomplishments.
I should also mention that the van Hove production was filmed and we were seeing it in a movie theater at the Dialog Festival. As so many of us know during this time of COVID, the challenges of filmed theatre are real and it is tough to get something that feels as good as a live performance. This filming was quite successful in that it was extremely intimate, yet still had the quality of theater rather than being a film. The simple set and the transformation from father to son are what really kept it in the realm of the theatre.
Both van Hove and Ostermeier spoke about what drew them to this text and they both mentioned Louis as an important voice of the working class. Ostermeier in particular mentioned growing up working class and feeling uneasy about so much of German theater being aesthetic exercises for the middle class. Van Hove spoke about reading the text when it first came out and immediately feeling a need to direct it. He called his longtime collaborator Kesting and they agreed right away that it was something they wanted to work on. Van Hove mentioned that the original text alternates from storytelling to philosophical and political reflection. He said that he cut out most of the reflection in order to keep the play in the moment and to keep it moving forward.
About the Artist
IVO VAN HOVE is a highly regarded theatre and opera director. He’s one of the pillars of the European theatre. His career began in 1981, when he staged his own dramas, such as Ziektekiemen and Geruchten. Very soon, he started to lead one stage after another as artistic director, at first the Flemish AKT, Akt-Vertikaal and De Tijd. Between 1990 and 2000, he was the director of Het Zuidelijk Toneel in Eindhoven. For six years (1998–2004), he also managed the Holland Festival in Amsterdam, each year inviting his own selection of international theatre, music, opera and dance performances. He lectures in the drama department of the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp. Since 2001, van Hove is the general director of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, renamed ITA ensemble in 2018. Productions directed by him are presented at all important European festivals. He is also very often invited to guest direct, for example in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, London and Paris, as well as in the US – in the New York Theater Workshop, he staged – among others – More Stately Mansions by Eugene O’Neill and Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen (for directing both those productions he received the prestigious Obie Award). He works also for the theatre of the public TV station NPS. His separate directorial passion is opera. His output includes many important opera productions. In the Flemish Opera in Antwerp he staged, among others, the entire cycle The Ring of Nibelung by Wagner. For Joop van den Ende Theaterproducties, he staged Jonathan Larson’s famous musical Rent. The most famous of van Hove’s productions from recent years, played by the company of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, are, among others, Angels in America by Tony Kushner, The Human Voice by Jean Cocteau, The Russians! by Tom Lanoye based on Platonov and Ivanov by Anton Chekhov, Opening Night by John Cassavetes, Rocco and His Brothers by Luchino Visconti, Teorema by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Antonioni Project as an homage to Michelangelo Antonioni, Summer Trilogy by Carlo Goldoni, Children of the Sun by Maxim Gorky, The Misanthrope by Molière, Maria Stuart by Friedrich Schiller, as well as two Shakespearean triptychs: Roman Tragedies on the basis of Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, as well as Kings of War on the basis of Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III. Apart from that, in 2009 van Hove made a feature film Amsterdam with participation of many of the Toneelgroep actors and the American actress Marisa Tomei. The director likes to play with the staged material and to surprise the audience with unconventional spaces – for example in the adaptation of Faces by J. Cassavetes, which he prepared for Theater der Welt festival together with Schauspielhaus in Hamburg and Staatstheater in Stuttgart, viewers were sitting or lying… on beds. Among the many important awards Ivo van Hove received throughout his career, of particular importance is the Ordre des Arts and des Lettres given to him in 2004 by the French government. In January 2016, in the Grand Theatre-National Opera in Warsaw, the premiere of The Clemency of Titus by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart directed by him took place (a co-production with Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels).