(Kate Kellaway’s article appeared in the Observer, 11/6.)

Ivo van Hove is everywhere: his production of Lazarus – David Bowie’s swansong musical, which in New York sold out within hours of tickets being available at the box office, has arrived in London. Van Hove’s production of Hedda Gabler, starring Ruth Wilson, is to be a highlight of the National Theatre’s new season. He is bringing several pieces to the Barbican with his theatre company, Toneelgroep Amsterdam, including a double bill based on Ingmar Bergman films, a reprise of his Roman Tragedies and an adaptation of Visconti’s film Obsession which will star Jude Law. Multitasking must be second nature, I think, as I catch sight of him, striding into London’s Jerwood Space, in perfect time for our meeting.

Bowie was a very quiet man. A real English gentleman, a serious artist… He never used his power, he was collaborative

Dressed in a navy, double-breasted overcoat, Van Hove is, at 58, tall, lean and clean-shaven with a non-experimental look. Ask the unenlightened to imagine what his career might be and no one would guess avant-garde theatre director. He could pass as the lawyer he once intended to become. Born in Heist-op-den-Berg, in rural Belgium, he now lives in Amsterdam. His company travels the world and his productions excite rave notices, occasional dissenters, strong opinions. All his shows – including Juliet Binoche’s AntigoneScenes from a MarriageA View from the Bridge (for which he won an Olivier for best director) – are designed by his partner (in life and work) of more than 30 years, Jan Versweyveld. They share a daring, immaculate, less-is-more style: subtraction is their way of laying drama bare. Sometimes literally – their legendary 1998 Streetcar involved full-frontal nudity and was organised around a claw-footed bathtub.

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