Press room

World-renowned theatre ensemble Comédie-Française from Paris return to London after 19 years, with Ivo van Hove directing The Damned

A woman pulling a man laughing across the floor

The Damned (Les Damnés)

Crackling with intensity, The Damned (Les Damnés) directed by Ivo van Hove depicts the disintegration of a society, undone through a venomous alliance, the drama finding unsettling parallels today.

Luchino Visconti’s screenplay is the springboard for a ceaselessly creative production, which follows a family of German industrialists – the corrupt and debauched Essenbeck clan. With echoes of Greek and Shakespearean tragedy, their deepening collusion with the nascent Nazi regime puts them on a perilous path to destruction.

Invited to direct the illustrious Paris-based troupe of the Comédie-Française for the first time, Van Hove and his long-time collaborator Jan Versweyveld populate the Barbican stage with a company of 30 actors and technicians. Archival footage and live recordings projected onto a screen form a counterpoint to the immense and involving action, the roving camera at times turned towards the audience.

The Damned (Les Damnés) is performed in French with English surtitles.

The Damned (Les Damnés) premiered at the Festival d'Avignon in 2016, played in Paris at the Comédie-Française’s Salle Richelieu in 2016 and 2017 and at The Park Avenue Armory, New York in 2018.

To coincide with the return of the Comédie-Française to the UK after an absence of nearly 20 years, the Institut français programmes a series of theatre broadcasts and an exhibition. The broadcasts, filmed at the Comédie-Française in Paris, are screened at the Institut français from October 2018 to June 2019. Britannicus, Lucrèce Borgia, Le Misanthrope, Cyrano de Bergerac, Twelfth Night and Electre/Oreste are introduced by artists from the Comédie-Française. The exhibition Cabu, the Spectacular Spectator (11–14 October 2018) unveils a selection of sketches of Comédie-Française actors and plays by the late French Caricaturist, Cabu (Le Figaro, Charlie Hebdo).

Toni Racklin, Head of Theatre at the Barbican, said:
“We’re absolutely thrilled to be bringing one of the world’s greatest acting ensembles, the Comédie-Française, back to London and we’re looking forward to our audiences seeing The Damned on our stage. Their long-awaited return marks their first collaboration with theatre director Ivo van Hove, with whom we also have a long-standing relationship. To complement the Comédie-Française’s arrival in the capital after nearly 20 years, the Institut français have programmed a film season and exhibition showcasing the work of this world-renowned theatre company. We’re especially grateful to the Institut français for their very generous support in making this historic visit possible.”

Éric Ruf, Director of the Comédie-Française, said:
"In the variety of shows we initiate each season we know that a few of them will stand out as a symbol of our artistic ambition or will represent a time in history. The Damned directed by Ivo van Hove is obviously one of them. Throughout its long history, Comédie-Française has shown its capacity to seize a moment and reveal it on stage. Ivo van Hove’s show embodies this encounter experienced between the troupe and the unique and radical vision of a great director. After New York and before Antwerp, we’re very glad to give UK audiences the opportunity to discover it."

Ivo van Hove, Director, said:
“The collaboration with Comédie-Française on The Damned was one of the best of our lives in the theatre. It felt like coming home. Comédie-Française is a troupe of actors with all the advantages of a real ensemble. There is a deep feeling of a community, of trust. They gave me the confidence to make this merciless production that I consider one of the best we ever made.”

The Barbican’s relationship with Ivo van Hove began with the six-hour epic production of Roman Tragedies in 2009, followed by Antonioni Project (2011) and Scenes from a Marriage (2013). Van Hove directed Juliette Binoche in Antigone, a Barbican production, in 2015, and the following year the Barbican staged another of Van Hove’s Shakespeare marathons, Kings of War. In 2017 the Barbican hosted a Toneelgroep Amsterdam residency, which saw Roman Tragedies return, followed by Obsession with Jude Law (a Barbican co-production), and After the Rehearsal/Persona.

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. Van Hove 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 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, Van Hove has directed Hedda Gabler (2016) and Network (2018) with Bryan Cranston. In 2019 Van Hove adapts 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. On Broadway, Van Hove directs a new staging of West Side Story to open in 2020.


The Damned (Les Damnés)
Based on the work of Luchino Visconti, Nicola Badalucco, Enrico Medioli
Directed by Ivo van Hove
Scenography and Lighting Design by Jan Versweyveld
Costume Design by An D’Huys
Video Design by Tal Yarden
Original Sound Design and Sound Concept by Eric Sleichim
Dramaturgy by Bart Van den Eynde
Wed 19–Tue 25 Jun 2019 (6 performances)
No performance on Sun 23 Jun 2019
Barbican Theatre
2 hours 10 mins/no interval
£16-50 plus booking fee
Age guidance: 16+ (contains adult themes, graphic violence and nudity)
Press night: Wed 19 Jun 2019, 7.45pm

Presented by the Barbican

Produced by Comédie-Française

With the support of the Institut Français du Royaume-Uni, including its Trust, the Friends of the French Institute, with particular acknowledgement to the donors Vincent and Florence Gombault, Marc and Odile Mourre, Bernard Oppetit and Olga Jegunova and Ingmar and Sabrina Vallano. With the support of the Fondation pour la Comédie-Française