Shakespeare gets a close-up in Toneelgroep's compression of three plays – Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra – a remarkable six-hour marathon played without an interval. If that sounds like a penance, think again: this is an exhilarating pleasure. Director Ivo van Hove gleefully reinvents these tragedies of private obsessions and passions, political ambitions and expediency to make it seem as if Shakespeare is not only our contemporary but only finished writing the plays this morning. The final hour of the final play, Antony and Cleopatra, is about as good as theatre gets; combining astonishingly inventive stagecraft with glorious acting, raw as an open wound, totally invested and decidedly unpretty. I'd happily see it all again for those 60 minutes.
The rest may not be quite so emotionally involving which is problematic over such a long stretch, but it always offers an intriguing double-take on theatre itself as well as the theatre of war where individual will and the political demands of Rome are often at odds. Anyone who has seen Katie Mitchell's The Waves will recognise the use of multimedia here in which the staged action is often complemented by large and small screen video close-ups. But Van Hove's triumph is to create an entire world that fits the technique like a glove: everything is on show here, all life is a performance, a continuous almost operatic soap unfolding in a large conference hall-like setting full of TV screens, pot plants, beige sofas and tables set up for instant press conferences. We the audience are part of this performance. We both watch the play and we are in the play, invited on to the stage to loll on the sofas, check our email on the computers or buy a drink from the on-stage bar. We are the nameless citizens of Rome, we are implicated in the action.
We can also view the drama from multiple perspectives, or indeed curate our own versions of the plays because of where we choose to look. When Coriolanus is banished from Rome, I viewed the entire scene by looking at his wife's despairing face; it is the back of Brutus that proves most eloquent when Mark Antony makes his speech. The detail is extraordinary and the more Van Hove blows the action up, the more intimate it becomes. Unmissable.
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Guardian: Theatre review: The Roman Tragedies, Barbican, London
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