Luk Perceval

© Phile Deprez
Born in Lommel/Belgium on 30 May 1957. Studied acting in Antwerp. Hired as an actor at Antwerp municipal theatre “Koninklijke Nederlandse Schouwburg”. Together with Guy Joosten in 1984 he founded the independent group in “Blauwe Maandag Compagnie” in opposition to the dusty repertory theatre and he has been producing for it ever since, managing it on his own after 1991. In 1998/99 the group merged with the “Koninklijke Nederlandse Schouwburg” under the name “Het Toneelhuis", Perceval became its artistic director.

He received many awards for his productions in the Flemish language, including the Thalia Prize in 1990 for the artistic work as a whole; numerous invitations to theatre festivals in the Netherlands and Belgium.

He was awarded the 3sat Innovation Prize for “Battles!”, the German version of “Ten Oorlog” (production of the year 2000 in the critics’ survey of “Theater heute”). His contract with “Het Toneelhuis” will expire in 2005, then he wants to commit himself as an in-house director at the Berlin Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz.

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Portrait: Luk Perceval

Luk Perceval was well-known in Belgium even in the 1980s. With his “Blauwe Maandag Compagnie” he was one of the rebels of the “Flemish Wave”, which developed its own local versions of classics influenced by everyday language in opposition to subsidised municipal theatre. The great breakthrough beyond the Flemish language area came with “Battles!”, the spectacular Shakespeare marathon.

In several months of rehearsals, Perceval – who had by now become manager in Antwerp – once again studied the twelve-hour version of the history plays with German actors with which he had also succeeded in Belgium. This co-production of the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg and the Salzburg Festival, invited to the Berliner Theatertreffen in 2000, made him famous overnight. Since then he has been considered one of the great directors of European theatre.

“Battles!” turned the Wars of the Roses into the original picture of the eternal ups and downs of power: bloodily, gloriously, mercilessly. In large-scale tableaux and changing stylistic forms, Perceval presented terrors, horrors and passions, free of all moralising interpretation. Things are as they are: this director is a realist through and through – but one who has never been driven to irony or cynicism by society’s loss of utopia.

He has kept going back to Shakespeare. In “L. King of Pain” (2002) he made King Lear into an Alzheimer’s sufferer in an old people’s home, an old man spouting nonsense who imagines he is Lear. The production met with much criticism (“shrunken theatre”). His “Othello” at the Munich Kammerspiele (2003) also met with a controversial response. Perceval reduced the drama to his existential-emotional core, practically down to the bare bones: an “impossible” pair of lovers, an old man and a young girl, dream in dark nights the dream of the love that this society of careerists and cynics will not allow. At the centre of the production, a black grand piano and a white grand piano are placed upside down, a jazz pianist and singer comments on the plot with ecstatic singing. It is an evening in which Perceval’s reductionist theatrical language gains particular intensity.

Perceval stresses that he does not want to impose his directorial style on the texts as a “trademark”. “I have never been interested in repeating myself. Every play has its own language and form, its own secret.” Indeed, the distance between the image orgies of his “Battles!” and the mysterious intimacy of his Munich Jon Fosse version of “Dream of Autumn” (invited to the 2002 Berliner Theatertreffen) is vast. Nevertheless, clear lines can be seen in his theatrical work. Perceval seeks out the extreme: the screeching and the silence. Bodies and physical expression are dominant. He wants to create primeval situations, elemental nature. In contrast, language fades into the background – something for which he is occasionally criticised. With him, language is often reduced to a mere exclamation, a monotonous litany, banal everyday jargon.

It is not surprising that Perceval has also come across classical plays in his search for the archaic. in “Aars!” (2000) he described Aeschylus’s “Oresteia” as the murderous concentration of a family catastrophe, an explosion of hatred, greed and violence, a tirade between musty kitchens and the coldness of space. In the storm of light and sound of this production, in the vehement images of aggression and regression, hunger for happiness and inconsolable loneliness, the language faded into screeching and noise.

At the Berlin Schaubühne, too, he recently produced classical material, as found in Racine; with his brother Peter he developed a short version of “Andromache” (2003). On an altar-like platform surrounded by a sea of splinters, the actors are exposed like prisoners, they stay in terrible rigidity, without any opportunity to escape or move, the drama freezes to a sculpture. This is extreme minimalism in which even the language petrifies into cold, anthropological diagnosis.

Gerhard Jörder

Productions - A selection

  • After Erich Maria Remarque, Henri Barbusse and historical documents "FRONT - Nothing New on the Western Front"
    2014, Thalia Theater, Hamburg
  • After J.M. Coetzee "Disgrace"
    2013, Munich Kammerspiele
  • Hans Fallada "Every Man Dies Alone"
    2012, Thalia Theater, Hamburg
  • Anton Chekhov "The Cherry Orchard"
    2012, Thalia Theater, Hamburg
  • William Shakespeare "Macbeth"
    2011, Ruhrtriennale, coproduction with Thalia Theater, Hamburg
  • Wolfgang Borchert "Outside the Door"
    2011, Thalia Theater, Hamburg
  • William Shakespeare, new adaption by Feridun Zaimoglu and Günter Senkel "Hamlet"
    2010, Thalia Theater, Hamburg
  • After the film by Helmut Käutner "Great Freedom No. 7"
    2010, Thalia Theater, Hamburg
  • Maxim Gorky (Adaption by Luk Perceval) "Children of the Sun"
    2010, Thalia Theater, Hamburg
  • Luk Perceval "The truth about The Kennedys"
    2009, Thalia Theater, Hamburg
  • Ingmar Bergmann "After the Rehearsal"
    2009, Thalia Theater, Hamburg
  • Hans Fallada "Little Man, What Now ?"
    2009, Munich Kammerspiele
  • Arthur Schnitzler "Anatol"
    2008, Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin
  • William Shakespeare (adaption by Paul Brodowsky, version by Luk Perceval) "Troilus and Cressida"
    2008, Munich Kammerspiele, coproduction with the Vienna Festival
  • Heinrich von Kleist "Penthesilea"
    2008, Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin
  • Feridun Zaimoglu/Günter Senkel/Luk Perceval "Molière. Eine Passion" (i.e. "Molière. A Passion")
    2007, Salzburger Festival
  • Friedrich Schiller "Mary Stuart"
    2006, Berliner Schaubühne (Friedrich-Luft-Prize 2006)
  • Claudio Monteverdi "Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary"
    2006, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin
  • Richard Wagner “Tristan und Isolde”
    2004, Staatsoper Stuttgart
  • Gerardjan Rijnders after William Shakespeare “Macbeth”
    2004, Het Toneelhuis Antwerp
  • Peter and Luk Perceval after Jean Racine “Andromache”
    2003, Berliner Schaubühne (Friedrich-Luft-Prize 2003)
  • Jan van Dijck/Luk Perceval after Anton Chekhov “Oom Vanja”
    2003, Het Toneelhuis Antwerp
  • Feridun Zaimoglu/Günter Senkel after William Shakespeare “Othello”
    2003, Munich Kammerspiele
  • Marius von Mayenburg “The Cold Child”
    premiere 2002, Berliner Schaubühne
  • Peter and Luk Perceval/Klaus Reichert after William Shakespeare “L. King of Pain”
    2002, Het Toneelhuis Bruges/Schauspiel Hanover/Schauspielhaus Zurich
  • Jon Fosse “Dream of Autumn”
    2001, Munich Kammerspiele, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Anton Chekhov “The Cherry Orchard”
    2001, Schauspiel Hanover
  • Peter Verhelst/Luk Perceval after Aeschylus “Aars!”
    2000, Het Toneelhuis Antwerp/Holland Festival
  • Tom Lanoye/Luk Perceval after William Shakespeare “Battles!”
    1999, Salzburg Festival/Schauspielhaus Hamburg, invitation to Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Tom Lanoye/Luk Perceval after William Shakespeare “Ten Oorlog”
    1997, Blauwe Maandag Compagnie, Kunstencentrum Vooruit Gent
  • Roland Topor “Joko – Joko Celebrates His Birthday”
    1993, Blauwe Maandag Compagnie, Kunstencentrum Vooruit Gent