Kings of war

ITA–Ensemble / Ivo van Hove

Kings of war

ITA–Ensemble / Ivo van Hove


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Kings of War combines Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III into a single, explosive play about leadership. For his portrayal of Richard III, Hans Kesting received the Louis d’Or in 2016.

On tour

The duration is 270 minutes, including one intermission

Dutch with English surtitles

About the play

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. Kings of war is an international production with a large cast. Fourteen actors play 35 different roles. The play had its premiere in June 2015 at the Wiener Festwochen and was performed in Amsterdam, Paris, Londen and New York. In these times of political instability, the performance hits a social nerve. Shakespeare’s kings show eerie similarities to the world leaders of today. After Kings of war had been performed just a day before the US presidential elections, The New Yorker called the play ‘the first great theatrical work of the Trump era’. The play was also selected for the National Dutch Theatre Festival in 2016. The jury:Performed with crystal clear directing, breathtaking scenography and with perfect musical accompaniment, Toneelgroep Amsterdam demonstrates Shakespeare’s immortality during the 400th anniversary of his death. Let’s hope this Kings of war will be performed regularly in the Netherlands.’

Henry V (Ramsey Nasr), 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 (Eelco Smits) 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 (Hans Kesting) 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.


'In this cold-eyed, hot-blooded work from the Toneelgroep Amsterdam company, political cynicism moves with the heady rush of sexual passion. Settle in for a long session of shivers, gasps and, despite yourself, satisfied smiles. Kings of War takes the home-viewing pleasures associated with serial television portraits of cutthroat schemers, like those in House of Cards and The Sopranos, and magnifies them to the proportions of grand opera.'- New York Times

'So spielt man Shakespeare. (...) Schauspielerische Leistungen der Sonderklasse.' - European Cultural News

'epic reimagining of Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III makes for an explosive examination of political leadership and present-day power'- The Guardian ****

'Convoquer les classiques pour parler d’aujourd’hui, le directeur du Toneelgroep d’Amsterdam la met en oeuvre avec une intelligence magistrale. Et un atout maître: les fabuleux acteurs de sa troupe, qui ont là l’occasion de montrer toute l’étendue de leur talent.'- Le Monde

'This is Shakespeare for the 21st century, shorn of majesty, unlovely and horribly familiar. (...) it’s realised with ingenuity, intelligence and verve: a hurtling history play for today.' - The Times ****

'The text has been intelligently filleted, subplots excised, and the production moves with the pace of a Scandi-thriller, a modern power play. Monarchy here is a costume, a gift and a burden. It is too heavy for some men and makes beasts of others.' - The Stage ****

'this marathon production is both mordant and mesmeric' - The Independent ****

'Van Hove’s production is utterly engaging. (...) Van Hove’s compression of the histories is a timely reminder that across the centuries, Shakespeare’s knowledge of the human heart remains unwithered by age, unstaled by familiarity.' - The Telegraph ****

'van Hove’s production highlights Shakespeare’s profound understanding of the role of naked power-hunger in the body politic' - The Guardian ****

'As he proves here, van Hove always has something fresh to contribute.' - Evening Standard ****

'Hans Kesting’s petrifying Richard III, a performance surely destined for the history books.' - Variety

'Hove’s take feels thrillingly modern.'- Time Out ****

Ivo van Hove over 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 in 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.'

Ivo van Hove
Ivo van Hove

Ivo van Hove has been director of Internationaal Theater Amsterdam since 2001.

In season 18|19, he will be directing A little life (Hanya Yanagihara) and Death in Venice (coproduction Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest) and his directing of Small souls, The things that pass, The hidden force, After the rehearsal / Persona, Scenes from a marriage, The diary of one who disappeared, La voix humaine, The Fountainhead, Kings of war and The other voice will be reprised.

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