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Can a piece of plastic be sad? Well in the theatre by Lotte van den Berg #dekeuze

Can a plastic rag be sad? It does in the hands of a puppeteer in a performance by Lotte van den Berg. With a few pieces of tape and a lot of well-aimed buttons, the plastic rag has been transformed into something with four limbs and a head. And the plastic rag mourns in the hands of its performer dozens of similarly knotted plastic rags that have no performer. See. So an image like this grabs, just like the image in which we first got to know the plastic rags: Chased by hurricane machines set up all around, swirling helplessly in a small theatrical tornado.

Photo: Willem Weemhoff

We were able to see this watching 'Les Spectateurs'. It is the performance Lotte van den Berg made, inspired by four months of fieldwork in the Congolese capital Kinshasa. Last year we were there when fresh off the plane at Rotterdam's De Gouvernestraat theatre, she and her actors publicly unpacked their suitcases. Anyone expecting then to hear stories about poverty and age-old traditions and what we could learn from them was disappointed. Nor anything about colonial guilt and senseless tribal violence. Kinshasa is not like that. Lotte van den Berg is not like that.

What she did talk about? How theatre there in the Congo is so out in the street that no one notices when you are really making theatre. At least everyone walks and talks through it. After a few initial moments of annoyance, Van den Berg decided to give in and adapt her theatre to the streets of Kinshasa. No more separation between audience and players. This created some interesting happenings in which everyone simultaneously did and did not participate.

And she wants to manage that here too. This is tricky. After all, we are conditioned, as soon as we suspect any theatre or art, to grab a seat and go and watch. Comfortably in the stands at least two, but preferably five metres away from the artist. And woe betide the creator who wants the viewer to participate. We got our fill of participatory theatre in the 1970s, and that includes the generations that weren't even around then. That's how deep it goes.

So how does Van den Berg do it? She shows that tornado. She has an African woman sing an unintelligible stream of words in beautiful rhythm, which eventually goes down in the storm. A moment later, a beautiful girl does an equally chilling, dadaistic speech experiment while all the while a black boy looks at the audience. Not necessarily unfriendly, but with those plastic bags thrown around the room like human fragments, you don't entirely escape a somewhat uncanny feeling.

And then they pour glasses of water, wine and orange juice and it's pretty much over. At least, if the African voice artist among the spectators has repeated her song again while the black boy has looked down on the spectators on the playing surface from the half-empty stands.

What to do with it is a very good question. Nor does the performance seem to ask for interpretation: the images are what they are, do with them what you see fit. You could say that this one-hour piece is a bit thin as the result of half a year's company stay in Africa and a rehearsal process of a few months. You might also not say that. You could also say that, on the contrary, what was put into that performance is a lot.

I myself remain guilty of answering,

Les Spectateurs by OMSK. Seen on 27 September at Theatre De Gouvernestraat ikv The International Choice. Still to be seen there on 28 September. Information


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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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