The hidden machinations of power politics – according to William Shakespeare

Kings of war

Toneelgroep Amsterdam

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How do our leaders use their powers in times of war? How do they balance their political ambitions against the interests of the people and the lives of thousands of soldiers? In this explosive production directed by Ivo van Hove, Toneelgroep Amsterdam combines three of Shakespeare’s history plays which bring these current issues into sharp focus. From Henry V’s passion and dedication to Henry VI’s fateful lack of resolve and Richard III’s maniacal lust for power, Shakespeare guides us into the dark recesses of political rule, the psychology of the political leaders and the sinister machinations of the advisers surrounding them. Proof that nearly 400 years after his death his plays are more alive than ever.


Kings of war combines Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III into a single, explosive play about leadership. Shakespeare’s kings are political leaders who come face to face with the ultimate responsibility: they must make the life-or-death decision of whether to go to war. Shakespeare draws us into the psychology of the rulers, while also revealing the machinations of their courtiers and advisors. Kings of War lays bare the mechanisms of decision-making in times of political crisis, exposing the dichotomy between national interests and self-importance.

Henry V, at first a young and inexperienced monarch, quickly reveals himself to be a rational, moral leader who is willing to place his country’s interests above his own. He marries a French princess in order to secure peace. We nevertheless witness the chaos which befalls England as various pretenders to the throne attempt to seize power.
Henry VI fails to reconcile the warring factions and knows that the French are poised to invade. Shakespeare portrays Henry VI as a ineffectual ruler who is excluded from the centre of power as his country crumbles around him. His rank leads only to isolation.
Richard III is depicted as the embodiment of evil; a king with absolutely no regard for the national interests. In fact, he deliberately destroys the fragile peace which follows the Wars of the Roses. Richard is egocentric: as a leader, he lacks all empathy and seeks only ultimate power for himself. He regards himself as 'God’s equal', his only desire to rule over life and death. England is merely the backdrop.

Ivo van Hoven about Kings of war
'I am constantly thinking about the way in which leaders approach power and decision-making in a crisis. In Kings of War, we see three leaders in times of war. The fate of thousands of citizens and soldiers, and the very future of the country, are in their hands. We see how each king uses his power n very different ways. It is fascinating to witness how crucial decisions about life and death are made. This play shows man at his most noble and at his most perverse. Shakespeare is unequalled in his portrayal of leadership and power. He creates kings who are passionate and driven, kings who are hesitant and ineffectual, and those who are just plain mad. He gives us men of flesh and blood, who must constantly weigh the interests of their country and subjects against their own. These are men under pressure, leaders who know that they are writing history, sometimes in the blood of their people.

It is inspiring to discover Shakespeare as a contemporary who is dealing with the type of events we see on the news every day: the dark machinations of the people in power and the violence that their decisions bring about.'


KOW Jan Versweyveld 2 Halfbreed KOW Jan Versweyveld 11 Halfbreed


William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born the son of a respected farmer and businessman in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 22 he joined a London theatre group as an actor and writer. Already during his life time Shakespeare earned a good reputation and a great fortune. His dramas still have a central place in the theatre repertoire of the world today.

Theatre director Ivo van Hove has held central positions in Dutch-Belgian cultural life, first as the head of Het Zuidelijk Toneel in Eindhoven from 1990 to 2000 and from 2001 as general director of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam. Toneelgroep Amsterdam has been invited by international festivals such as RuhrTriennale, Wiener Festwochen, the Edinburgh Festival and Festival d'Avignon, and performs in The United States, Canada, Russia and Australia. Van Hove directed companies as the New York Theatre Workshop, the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, the Schaubuehne in Berlin and the Münchner Kammerspiele. He also staged productions at the Flemish Opera, La Monnaie in Brussels and in Amsterdam. In 2014 he staged the world premiere of the opera Brokeback Mountain at Teatro Real. One can track back his world-class reputation to his leadership of the annual Holland Festival, at which he programmed international theatre, music, opera and dance from 1997 to 2004.

Awarded repertoire of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam includes Shakespeare's Roman Tragedies and The Taming of the Shrew, Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage and John Cassavetes' Husbands and Opening Night. Van Hove has received many accolades, including two Obie Awards for off-Broadway productions in New York (for More Stately Mansions and Hedda Gabler), the Flanders Oeuvre Prize (1995), the Theatre Festival Prize (1996) and the Archangel Award at the Edinburgh Festival (1999). He was made a knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France in 2004. In 2007 he received the prize awarded by Dutch theatre critics. In 2008, he also received the Prosceniumprijs, the Dutch oeuvre prize, together with Jan Versweyveld, his stage designer for many years and in 2012 The Amsterdam Business Oeuvre Award. In 2014 Van Hove received an honorary doctorate for general merit of the University of Antwerp.

Toneelgroep Amsterdam (TA) is one of the leading ambassadors of Dutch performing art in the Netherlands and abroad. With a core composed of a broad and highly versatile ensemble of world-famous actors and a team of leading directors, TA is the in-house company of Amsterdam’s Stadsschouwburg Theatre and performs on stages worldwide. TA is lead by Ivo van Hove, who has been instrumental in attracting sensational international directors to the group such as Thomas Ostermeier, Johan Simons, Krzysztof Warlikowski, Grzegorz Jarzyna, Luk Perceval and Guy Cassiers, as well as members of a new generation such as Eric de Vroedt and Susanne Kennedy. TA sets itself apart by staging innovative and contemporary productions from the classic and modern repertoire for a wide audience in the Netherlands and abroad. The group performs for around 110,000 people a year, helping ensure that repertory theatre remains an indispensable component of contemporary culture. TA has an extensive talent development programme in areas such as acting, directing and stage design, as well as theatre technology and back-office work. In addition, TA has an extensive education programme, including an annual junior production, and there is a programme of other events occurring almost every day under the title of TA-extra. Furthermore, TA works together with alliance partners Adelheid ǀ Female Economy and De Warme Winkel.


William Shakespeare
Ivo van Hove
Alwin Pulinckx, Aus Greidanus jr., Bart Slegers, Chris Nietvelt, Eelco Smits, Fred Goessens, Hans Kesting, Hélène Devos, Hugo Koolschijn, Janni Goslinga, Kitty Courbois, Ramsey Nasr, Robert de Hoog, Harm Duco Schut (gast)
Bart Van den Eynde
adaptation, dramaturgy
Peter Van Kraaij
Rob Klinkenberg
scenography, light design
Jan Versweyveld
Eric Sleichim
Steve Dugardin (contratenor)
BL!NDMAN [brass]:Konstantin Koev
Alain Pire, Charlotte Van Passen, Daniel Quiles Cascant, Daniel Ruibal Ortigueira
Tal Yarden
An D'Huys
BL!NDMAN, Holland Festival, Muziektheater Transparant
assistant director
Olivier Diepenhorst, Nina de la Parra
assistant dramaturgy
Thomas Lamers
assistant scenography
Bart Van Merode, Pascal Leboucq
casting advice
Hans Kemna
technical & production manager
Wolf-Götz Schwörer
production manager
Michiel van Schijndel
1st inspicient
Reyer Meeter
hair & make-up
David Verswijveren
Farida Bouhbouh, Wim van Vliet (supervisor)
Marleen Koens
Toneelgroep Amsterdam
Barbican London, Théâtre National de Chaillot Paris, Wiener Festwochen
assistant licht design
Trent Suidgeest (internship)
assistant video
Rodrik Biersteker
with thanks to
Rabobank Amsterdam
private producer
Harry en Marijke van den Bergh

This performance was made possible with support by