How relevant is a play from 1900 in the year 2020? Director Simon Stone moves the action of Herman Heijermans’ Op hoop van zegen (‘The Good Hope’) from a fishing village to the arrivals hall of an international airport. Friends and family wait for the return of their loved ones, just as the fisherman’s wives anxiously awaited the return of their relatives in the original production. The line ‘The fish comes at a price’ isn’t about money, after all – it’s about human lives. Internationally renowned writer and director, Stone (who has featured at Holland Festival on previous occasions with The Wild Duck in 2013, and Thyestes in 2014) is known for his radical remakes of existing plays. With quick, razor-sharp dialogues and a top-notch cast including Maria Kraakman, Chris Nietvelt and Maarten Heijmans, he transforms this Dutch stage classic into a story of great relevance for our times.
The magical elixir of youth, enabling someone to look 10 or even 20 years younger, does not exist for us mortals. There is one, however, for stage plays. In the past few years it has undergone extensive
testing and has been found to be highly effective. It can make theatre from 100, or even 2000 years ago look and sound like something written yesterday. This elixir comes from Australia and is called Simon Stone. The next script to be administered a dose of Stone is the Dutch classic Op hoop van zegen (1900) by Herman Heijermans.
Simon Stone (1984) is a director, writer and actor, who has become one of the world’s most sought-after and acclaimed theatre makers. He is constantly lauded in the press for his ‘radical rewritings’ of repertoire pieces, which turn into ‘intimate, filmic performances’ in his hands. He goes straight to the heart of any piece he takes on, translating its fundamental underlying issues to a similar contemporary conflict, and giving the characters sharp-edged, rapid-fire dialogues. The resulting plays feel relevant to today, yet at the same time they are testimonies to a human condition that has remained unchanged for centuries.
Stone’s breakthrough in the Netherlands came in 2013, at the Holland Festival with The Wild Duck, which he had directed at the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney. Stone condensed Henrik Ibsen’s original work down to a little over an hour of explosive family drama, its completely rewritten script packed with references to popular culture. This new and entirely radical method for staging the classics is something he perfected in his early years in Australia, with his own group The Hayloft Project and other companies. This practice received praise and awards, as well as scorn from purist theatre fans. He didn’t care: as he said then in the Dutch paper de Volkskrant: 'The whole Australian theatre world is fucking conservative.'
Stone aims to ‘test’ the classics of the drama literature on new generations of audiences. In his own words: 'that’s how you keep a theatre tradition alive, by seeing if people still recognise themselves in these kinds of pieces. To do that, you have to continually reinvent the classics.'
In 2014 the Holland Festival presented his Thyestes, a similarly radical adaptation of Seneca’s tragedy. Ivo van Hove then brought Stone to his Toneelgroep Amsterdam (now Internationaal Theater Amsterdam), where he directed Medea (2014), Husbands and Wives (2016, also performed at the Holland Festival) and Ibsen huis (‘Ibsen house’, 2017).
Now he’s back, with both ITA and the Holland Festival, giving a typical Stone makeover to a Dutch repertory piece for the first time. Herman Heijermans’ Op hoop van zegen is perhaps the Netherlands’ most-performed play. It was written in 1900 as a searing indictment of society, in particular greedy ship owners who deliberately sent unseaworthy boats out to sea in order to cash in on the insurance policies when they were lost. Heijermans was aiming to force through a law that would prevent this practice. Yet the play is not a two-dimensional representation of good guys versus bad guys. The isolated fishing community has no choice: they are prisoners of the sea. Fishing is their only means of making a living. Everyone is in fact a plaything of fate. This last point in particular will be the basis of Stone’s adaptation, which transports the drama to the arrivals hall of a major airport. You’ve never seen Heijermans like this before.
Simon Stone (1984) is one of today’s most internationally sought-after theatre makers. The Australian director, writer and actor made his Netherlands breakthrough at the 2013 Holland Festival with
The Wild Duck, a completely rewritten version of Henrik Ibsen’s original play. Since then he has been a frequent guest in the country, where he has created a new work for Internationaal Theater Amsterdam on average every two years.
Stone was born in Basel, Switzerland to Australian parents, and grew up in Cambridge, England. When he was 13 he moved back to Australia with his parents. Stone knew that he wanted to be an actor at an early age. He read Shakespeare’s complete works in chronological order, and acted in several films as a teenager. He studied at the Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne. In 2007 he founded the independent company The Hayloft Project, with whom he directed Spring Awakening by Wedekind, Chekhov’s Platonov, a new version of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf called The Only Child, Seneca’s Thyestes (which won three Green Room Awards) and others.
In 2011 Stone became resident director with the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney, where he wrote and directed The Wild Duck. His adaptation was enthusiastically received, and resulted in several invitations to work in Europe. In 2014 his staging of Aeschylus's Oresteia had its premiere in Oberhausen, and he also directed Medea with Toneelgroep Amsterdam. In that year he moved to Europe, where he became resident director at Theater Basel and later Artiste Associé with the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris. At Theater Basel he directed Angels in America, John Gabriel Borkman and Drei Schwestern (an adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters), all of which were selected for the Theatertreffen festival in Berlin. With Toneelgroep Amsterdam he has since directed Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives (Holland Festival 2016) and Ibsen huis.
His feature film debut The Daughter, based on his version of The Wild Duck, had its world premiere in 2016 at the Venice Film Festival.
Internationaal Theater Amsterdam (ITA) is one of the Holland Festival’s regular co-producers. In recent years the festival has presented ITA co-productions of The Cherry Orchard (2019, Simon McBurney), Romeinse Tragedies (2008 and 2018, Ivo van Hove) and Obsession (2017, Ivo van Hove). The ITA ensemble members are nationally and internationally famous. At its core is a large troupe of world-class actors and a team of prominent directors that performs on more than one hundred stages world-wide in addition to their Amsterdam base. The ensemble and the theatre on Leidseplein are managed by Ivo van Hove, Wouter van Ransbeek and Margreet Wieringa.
The ITA regularly welcomes high-profile international guest directors such as Thomas Ostermeier, Johan Simons, Krzysztof Warlikowski, Katie Mitchell, Grzegorz Jarzyna, Luk Perceval and Guy Cassiers, and representatives of the new generation like Simon Stone, Maren E. Bjørseth and Robert Icke. ITA’s acclaimed production of Een klein leven, based on the book ‘A Little Life’ by American Hanya Yanagihara, had its premiere in 2018, and actor Ramsey Nasr received the Louis d'Or (the award for best male lead) in 2019 for his portrayal of Jude in the play.
- Herman Heijermans
- text, direction
- Simon Stone
- assistant director
- Daniel ’t Hoen, Sally Merres
- Bob Cousins
- James Farncombe
- Stefan Gregory
- Peter van Kraaij
- Janni Goslinga,