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Great, scintillating Trojan Wars from National Theatre

Dance and ballet, drama with gory atrocities and clattering emotions, imaginative lighting, set and costume effects and, above all, enthusiasm bursting forth. HNTjong's 'biggest production ever' with 30 actors for 50 roles is overwhelming.

Thanks also to the corona crisis: the National Theatre had to postpone the performance for a year and a half and lift it over two summer holidays, with all the ensuing misery; audiences had to endure ever new restrictions on theatre attendance. Then, when we finally got to go again, actors and audiences were overjoyed. Which culminated on Saturday at the premiere in a discharge on stage and in the auditorium of the Royal Theatre after an unforgettable premiere experience of the experienced and the young new actors.

Complex story, simple emotions

How was it again? It's with these Trojan Wars as with a lot of mythology you want to know by heart. So read, before attending the performance. To realise that not only the world of gods but also the war story is largely of the imagination, from Homer in his magnificent Ilias. Although around 1,200 BC, the Greeks and Trojans really did wage war using many ships. From which - many centuries later - Virgil drew inspiration for his magnificent Aeneas, about the founding of Rome.

Playwright Peer Wittenbols wrote a contemporary version of the play, retaining eternal values such as anger, revenge, betrayal, love friendship, power, desire and disillusionment.

Lord of the Rings, among others, was the inspiration for director Noël Fischer, who did a masterful job with this production. After only a year and a half back precipitated by the lockdown, a week before the tryouts of Trojan Wars were due to begin.

Fierce war

We are presented with three parts:
The first begins with a vibrant peace party of Greeks and Trojans, with exuberant youngsters dancing to rousing music, highlighting the splendour and strength of the multicultural, diverse composition. As does little Tessa Jonge Poerink in the convincing role of visionary Cassandra.

The Greek gods are portrayed as a bunch of gossiping, manipulative and power-hungry idlers. The game is on the wagon with Trojan Paris taking Helena after the feast. They are in love, but considering Helena is the wife of Menelaus, the brother of Greek king Agamemnon, the latter sees an opportunity to go to war.

The second, central part shows the war against the Trojans by the Greeks becoming ever dirtier, with the killing of children, starvation of Troy and poisoning of drinking water. With growing gloom of gory scenes ensuing. Achilles forms the invincible centrepiece, until he falls prey to intrigues from his manipulative superiors Agamemnon and army chief Odysseus.

HNT succeeds in portraying the war in bloody scenes as impressive as they are repulsive, with revenge and betrayal in their purest forms. Interspersed with jokes that are not all funny, but which most of the audience enjoys; accustomed as they are to repetitive 'jokes' on the phone. Among the - also many - successful jokes is the use of anachronisms such as killing with gun and with plastic. All this threatens to make for a great spectacle.

Top performances by actors

Peer Wittenbols himself wrote a beautiful third volume about the consequences of far-reaching war, set in the underworld where the war heroes look back on their senseless actions on the netherworld. Winners and losers, what is left to them of the barren life wasted in battle?

We see a great cast in this Trojan Wars: Romana Peace (King Agamemnon, Aphrodite, Charon), Bram Suijker (Achilles, Apollo), Emmanuel Othene Boafo (King Menelaos, Ajax, Zeus), Merel Pauw (Briseïs, Astyanax, Hermes), Vanja Rukavina (Odysseus, Hektor) and Yamill Jones (Patroclos Paris, Artemis), Eva Black (Klytaimnest, Penthesilea, Hekabe), and Yeala the King (Helena, Andromache) in (triple) lead roles excel at the tops of their abilities.

In four hours of play, interspersed twice with a half-hour break for food and refreshments, the audience is treated to a brilliant performance. And HNT travels with the show: Zaandam, Amsterdam, Delft, Alkmaar, Breda, Kerkrade, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Groningen, Zwolle, Nijmegen.

Sound and money

The HNT podcasts on Trojan Wars by Bram Suijker and sound engineer Lennert Esser, beginning with the main storyline of the Trojan Wars and offering glimpses behind the scenes are also worthwhile. In the second podcast Vanja Rukavina answers 'the most frequently asked question to actors': how on earth can you memorise those mountains of text? For all youngsters who have to cram in school; the answer follows after 22 minutes. Incidentally, the performance is accompanied by a fine education project that reaches 5,000 pupils.

Grantmakers can also be proud of Trojan Wars, including Haarlem, Gelderland, Fentener van Vlissingen and Freek and Hella de Jonge. Glad they support, because according to the annual report although HNT kept two million euros over 2020 thanks to all the support without performing expensive productions, losses are looming for 2021, 2022 and 2023. At least perhaps financially, because in terms of content, company and theatre are embarking on a new heyday.

Photo: Dying Penthesilea, captain of the Amazons (Eva Zwart) dies by a dagger blow in her own heart region, in the arms of Achilles (Bram Suijker) - ©Peter Olsthoorn

Good to know Good to know

Seen: Trojan Wars, premiering 2 October Royal Theatre. After today's sold-out performance, she will tour the country to come to the Royal Theatre twice more at the end of November.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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