A Little Life promises to have a big impact at Adelaide Festival

The theatre company that brought the epic Shakespearean cycles Roman Tragedies and Kings of War to the Adelaide Festival will return in 2023 with an adaptation of American novelist Hanya Yanagihara’s equally epic modern-day classic A Little Life.

Nov 09, 2022, updated Nov 09, 2022
Internationaal Theater Amsterdam's  stage adaptation of 'A Little Life' has been described as compelling – but not for the faint-hearted. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Internationaal Theater Amsterdam's stage adaptation of 'A Little Life' has been described as compelling – but not for the faint-hearted. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Presented by Internationaal Theater Amsterdam (formerly Toneelgroep Amsterdam) under the direction of Ivo van Hove, A Little Life is playing exclusively in Adelaide and will have its Australian premiere at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre over six nights during the Festival.

Compared with the six-hour epic that was Roman Tragedies (presented at the 2014 Festival) and the 4.5-hour Kings of War (2018), A Little Life has a more modest run time of four hours – including interval – but promises to be just as powerful. Performed in Dutch with English surtitles, it is recommended for audiences aged 18+ and comes with a warning of “strong language, nudity, blood, drug references, depictions of violence, smoking, self-harm and sexual violence, and content about suicide”.

Yanagihara’s 720-page novel, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and won Fiction Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, tracks the intertwined lives of four men – actor Willem, visual artist JB, architect Malcolm and lawyer Jude – over more than 30 years. Their “centre of gravity” is Jude, who is brilliant yet broken, haunted by his traumatic history.

Reviewing the Internationaal Theater Amsterdam play at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, The Guardian’s critic wrote that dramaturg Koen Tachelet has done a brilliant job of compressing the novel into a play, but that the performance was certainly not for the faint-hearted, while a five-star review in The Telegraph described it as “a gruelling, violent and traumatic masterpiece of modern theatre”.

A Little Life will be presented at the 2023 Adelaide Festival. Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Adelaide Festival chief executive Kath M Mainland, who also saw A Little Life in Edinburgh, says she found it profoundly moving.

“Adapting this exquisitely, relentlessly sad, epic novel for the stage is no small feat, and yet Ivo van Hove does it in full, heart-stopping glory with a production that’s just finished a five-star season at Edinburgh’s International Festival,” she tells InReview.

“It is utterly captivating for the audience – I know, because I was one of them, and I can say that the four hours flew by as I was transfixed by this incredible piece of gruelling, challenging, utterly compelling theatre that has one of the most powerful endings I have ever seen on stage.”

The 2023 Adelaide Festival will run from March 3-19. The program was initiated by former artistic directors Rachel Healy and Neil Armfield, and is being presented by Mainland and Mackenzie, who launched the line-up at the Adelaide Town Hall today.

British arts leader Mackenzie, whose appointment was announced at the end of March, arrived in Adelaide from London last Friday to take up her role and will direct the 2024, 2025 and 2026 Festivals.

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