Guy Cassiers

Guy Cassiers

Guy Cassiers (b. 1960) has been artistic director of Toneelhuis since 2006. His distinctive, extremely visual theatrical idiom has made him one of the most highly regarded theatre-makers in Europe. In his productions, he combines his great passion for literature with his fascination for the possibilities of visual technology. Together with his actors, he creates a sensory universe in which music plays an increasingly important role. This has led to his interest in opera. Over the years, his growing fascination for European history and his interest in political themes like migration has resulted in such noted productions as De welwillenden, Grensgeval and Het kleine meisje van Meneer Linh. He recreated the last of these productions in several other languages, including English: Monsieur Linh and His Child.

Guy Cassiers is considered one of the most innovative theatre-makers in Europe. He has developed a very personal theatrical language in which he successfully marries two of his passions: visual technology and literature. He won the Thersites Prize of the Flemish critics for his oeuvre as a whole (1997), the Amsterdam Prize for the Arts and the Werkpreis Spielzeiteuropa awarded by the Berliner Festspiele for his Proust cycle (2004), the European Theatre Prize for New Theatrical Realities (2009) and, together with Ivo Van Hove, an honorary doctorate for services to society awarded by the University of Antwerp. In May 2017, Guy Cassiers received the insignia of Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French Minister of Culture. He has been artistic director of Toneelhuis since 2006.

Between 2006 and 2008 Guy Cassiers concentrated on his Triptiek van de macht - Mefisto for ever, Wolfskers and Atropa. De wraak van de vrede (Atropa. Avenging peace)- about the complex relationships between art, politics and power. He took that theme a step further in a triptych based on Robert Musil's great novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften; The Parallel Action (part I, premièred June 2010), The Mystic Marriage (part II, premièred September 2011) and The Crime (part III, premièred May 2012). Besides the projected image, music also started to play an increasingly important role in Cassiers' productions, as evidenced by two operas he created in 2009: House of the Sleeping Beauties (music Kris Defoort) and Adam in Ballingschap (Adam in Exile; music Rob Zuidam). He has since staged the complete cycle of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen in Berlin and Milan (2010-2013).

We have seen evidence of Guy Cassiers’ growing interest in European political history in projects like Bloed & rozen. Het lied van Jeanne en Gilles (Blood & Roses. The Song of Joan and Gilles 2011), about the power and manipulation of the Church, and Duister hart (Dark Heart, 2011) based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness about colonial history. With productions like SWCHWRM (2010) Guy Cassiers shows he is also capable of striking a lighter note, which again manifested itself in his appearance in Middenin de nacht (In the Middle of the Night), a production in January 2012 involving all the Toneelhuis actors. In 2013 Guy Cassiers worked with Katelijne Damen on an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando which was selected for the Dutch Theatre Festival 2013.

In the 2013-2014 season Guy Cassiers turned his attention to the large theatre repertoire and staged Shakespeare – twice: the music theatre production MCBTH and Hamlet vs Hamlet, based on a text by Tom Lanoye. Hamlet vs Hamlet was well received by press and public alike and was selected for both the Flemish and Dutch Theatre Festivals 2014. Together with Ivo Van Hove, Guy Cassiers was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Antwerp for services rendered to society. In 2014-2015 Guy Cassiers and the ensemble of theatre-makers and actors staged Maurice Maeterlinck’s Les aveugles (De blinden). At HETPALEIS he made a show based on Toon Tellegen’s Het vertrek van de mier (The Departure of the Ant) in cooperation with the socio-artistic organization KunstZ. Cassiers ended the season with Passions humaines, a production based on the work of the 19th century sculptor Jef Lambeaux, with a script by Erwin Mortier and a mixed cast of French and Dutch speakers.

During the 2015–2016 season, he again directed two plays about power and its abuse: Caligula by Camus and De welwillenden (The Kindly Ones), based on the similarly named novel by Jonathan Littell. The smaller production Le sec et l’humide (The Dry and the Wet, 2015), after Jonathan Littell’s similarly named essay and based on the same theme as The Kindly Ones, was originally set up as a research project and developed into a full-fledged theatre production that has gone on tour, including the Festival d’Avignon in 2017.

He also took his interest in opera further with a staging of Francesco Cavalli’s opera Xerse in Lille (FR).

In the 2016-2017 season, Cassiers made De moed om te doden (Courage to Kill) by the Swedish playwright Lars Norén. In Grensgeval (Borderline) he tackled work by Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek. For the Ouverture of the city of Mechelen's festival Op.Recht.Mechelen, a special concertante reading of Bloed & rozen (Blood & Roses) is being presented. In Japan, he recreated the music theatre production House of the Sleeping Beauties, which he originally made in 2009 with composer Kris Defoort, based on the similarly named novel by Kawabata. In that same season at the Opéra Garnier in Paris, he staged the opera Trompe-la-mort, after Balzac, set to music by Luca Francesconi.

In the 2017-2018 season, Cassiers continued his interest in the fate of the refugee, which he first examined in Grensgeval (Borderline); he then staged the intimate Het kleine meisje van meneer Linh (Monsieur Linh and His Child) after the book by Philippe Claudel. After making a Dutch-language version in the fall of 2017, he followed that up with a French-language version with a French actor in the spring of 2018 (and then a Catalonian version, La Néta del Senyor Linh, with a Spanish-Catalonian actor who in the fall of 2019 will also be performing a Spanish version). In the spring of 2018, he worked along the lines of the family narrative that he started with De moed om te doden (Courage to Kill) – now in a lighter vein – with his staging of Vergeef ons (May We Be Forgiven), a soap about a family gone awry, with a happy ending. “A colourful, bold, extremely funny and festive piece of theatre performed by a top-notch cast.” – Filip Tielens on Klara radio, 23 February 2018.

In the spring of 2019, Cassiers joined forces with Arsenaal/Lazarus to create Bagaar, after the film Coup de Torchon from 1981 by Bernard Tavernier. With this production, Guy Cassiers has continued his theatrical search into the darkest depths of the human soul, a descent that he previously carried out in productions such as Atropa. De wraak van de vrede; Duister hart; Musil 3: De misdaad; MCBTH; Bloed & rozen. Het lied van Jeanne en Gilles; and De welwillenden. During that same spring of 2019, Het kleine meisje van meneer Linh was also recreated in an English version, which premiered in Luxembourg as Monsieur Linh and His Child.

In the fall of 2019, Guy Cassiers directed Purcell’s The Indian Queen at Opéra de Lille. For Toneelhuis, he created a double bill in the autumn of 2020: Antigone in Molenbeek +Tiresias. The lead figures in both of these productions question the laws of patriarchal (Western) society, each in their own way. In the spring of 2021, Guy Cassiers directed April, based on a text by Willem de Wolf in which the key figure is April Glaspie, the American ambassador in Iraq in the period right before the outbreak of the first Gulf War, a conflict that changed the relations between the Arab and Western worlds.

In June of 2021, Guy Cassiers is making a French version of Antigone in Molenbeek + Tiresias with the actresses Ghita Serraj and Valérie Dréville in the leading roles. In October 2021 he is directing an adaptation by Erwin Mortier of Dostoyevsky’s Démons at the famed Comédie Française in Paris. 

In January 2022, Zeg aan de kinderen dat wij niet deugen, a homage to one of the most important living poets writing in Dutch, Leonard Nolens, will have its premiere at the Bourla. Guy Cassiers is rounding off the 2021-2022 season with Lonely Hearts Club Band, a collective project that presents all of the Toneelhuis makers on the Bourla stage in June 2022. With this project, Guy Cassiers also brings his 16-year directorship at Toneelhuis to a festive close. 

Productions from/with ‘Guy Cassiers’

Grensgeval Theatre Archive


Guy Cassiers / Toneelhuis / Maud Le Pladec / Bachelor dans Koninklijk Conservatorium Antwerpen AP Hogeschool / CNSMD Lyon

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