Edinburgh International Festival Theatre

A Little Life

Festival Theatre

What goes on behind closed doors between friends is nobody’s business but theirs in Ivo van Hove’s epic staging of Hanya Yanagihara’s 2015 novel.

This sense of insularity permeates van Hove’s production, initially coming from the way the four college buddies at the core of Yanagihara’s story hang out and party hard while the world goes on outside.

What begins looking like a more regular rites of passage as Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm become successful in their fields takes a lurch even more inwards, with lawyer Jude becoming the centre of the action as his story unfolds.

Over the next four hours, van Hove and co lay bare a relentless litany of sexual abuse that provokes a lifetime of self-loathing and self-harm, as Jude becomes the doomed heart of the relationship between the quartet.

Performed in Dutch with English supertitles, Koen Tachelet’s adaptation brings home the brutality of Jude’s self-hatred.

This is made even more shocking by the stately and at times soporific pace of the production, the flagship of International Theater Amsterdam’s three-show EIF residency.

The chic interior of Jan Versweyveld’s set lulls one into a false sense of security, as it becomes both confessional and torture chamber for Jude, as film footage of the city outside is beamed either side of the stage.

The sink at the centre of the stage becomes a receptacle for Jude to wash away his perceived sins, while the slow-burning strings of the BL!NDMAN ensemble scrape out a foreboding accompaniment.

Most of all, it is the eight-strong cast, led by a fearless Ramsey Nasr as Jude, who make flesh of Yanagihara’s story. Maarten Heijmans as Willem, Majd Mardo as JB, Edwin Jonker as Malcolm and the rest of the cast possess a casual presence that can up the ante into something near unwatchable in an instant.

By the end this has become a near religious purging for Jude in this harrowing dissection of a man damaged to within an inch of his life.

Until August 22 – https://www.eif.co.uk/events/a-little-life