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Ivo van Hove to direct Death in Venice at the Barbican

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IVO van Hove is to direct Internationaal Theater Amsterdam (ITA) in the UK premiere of a new theatrical adaptation of Death in Venice.

Drawing on the eponymous novella by Thomas Mann and events in the German author’s own life, it runs at the Barbican Theatre from Thursday, April 16 to Sunday, April 19, 2020.

Death in Venice is part of the Barbican’s Inside Out season, a year exploring the relationship between our inner lives and creativity.

An intense infatuation fuels the tension between social expectations and personal desire in this deft combination of theatre and music. Celebrated author Thomas Mann is in crisis. He is struggling with writer’s block and a forbidden attraction to a young boy. Secluded in his workshop, he creates a fictional counterpoint of himself: Von Aschenbach, the man he dares not be in the real world.

Death in Venice is adapted for the stage by former Dutch poet laureate and ITA ensemble actor Ramsey Nasr, who performs the role of Aschenbach. It highlights the inner struggle of an artist who channels his experiences through his writing whilst also introducing the viewpoint of Mann’s wife.

New music by American composer Nico Muhly features alongside Strauss and Schoenberg, performed live by Barbican Associate Ensemble Britten Sinfonia conducted by Ben Glassberg, and counter tenor Yuriy Mynenko.

Death in Venice is performed in Dutch with English surtitles.

Ramsey Nasr, ITA, said: “While researching Death in Venice I found out that this novella was Thomas Mann’s most autobiographical work, recalled in the memoirs of his wife Katia, at the end of her life. Every scene in the novella, every event happening to Von Aschenbach had happened to Mann himself whilst on vacation in Venice with his wife. It made me wonder: what was it like for her to witness it all? That gave me all the ingredients for a drama encapsulating the story.”

Since 2001, Ivo van Hove has been General Director of Internationaal Theater Amsterdam (ITA, formerly Toneelgroep Amsterdam). The Barbican’s relationship with Van Hove and ITA began with the six-hour epic production of Roman Tragedies in 2009, followed by Antonioni Project (2011) and Scenes from a Marriage (2013). He directed Juliette Binoche in Antigone, a Barbican production, in 2015, and the following year the Barbican staged another of his Shakespeare marathons, Kings of War.

In 2017, the Barbican hosted an ITA residency, which saw Roman Tragedies return, followed by Obsession with Jude Law (a Barbican co-production) and After the Rehearsal/Persona. Last year saw the long-awaited return of the renowned Comédie-Française to London with The Damned (Les Damnés) also directed by Van Hove at the Barbican. And later this year (June 5 to June 11) he directs the celebrated screen and stage actress, Isabelle Huppert in the UK premiere at the Barbican of The Glass Menagerie by Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe, Paris.

In 2014, Van Hove directed A View from the Bridge at the Young Vic for which he won Best Director at the Olivier Awards and Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards. The production transferred to the West End and played on Broadway, where it won two Tony Awards for Best Play Revival and Best Director. He also staged the world premiere of the opera Brokeback Mountain (2014) at Teatro Real in Madrid and Lazarus (2015) by David Bowie and Enda Walsh which played at Kings Cross Theatre and in Amsterdam having transferred from New York Theatre Workshop.

In 2016, Van Hove’s Tony Award-nominated The Crucible, with Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw, played on Broadway. At the National Theatre, he has directed Hedda Gabler (2016) and Network (2018) with Bryan Cranston. In 2019, he adapted All About Eve for the stage, starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James at the Noël Coward Theatre, and The Diary of One Who Disappeared for The Royal Opera. Van Hove’s new staging of West Side Story is currently on Broadway. He was awarded the Dutch state art prize – the Johannes Vermeer prize – last year.

Death in Venic is suitable for ages 16+ (contains adult themes and nudity).

Tickets: £16 – £60 plus booking fee. To book, call the box office on 020 7638 8891 or visit

Times: 7.45pm; 3pm only on Sunday, April 19.

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes (no interval).

Also at the Barbican Theatre: Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s production of Evita (June 27 to August 22, 2020).