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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.'