Skip to content

André Manuel and Ben Duke: craftsmanship of the highest order on #tfboulevard

Being the best at your craft, and then not in one craft, but in three or so. That, too, is what makes an artist an artist. Ben Duke is a great artist. He is a gifted dancer, a phenomenal actor and a cum laude graduate in English literature. It is therefore logical that he wrote the greatest poem in British history, the 10,000 verse Paradise Lost, edited into an hour-and-a-half-long solo, and got away with it. Summa Cum Laude. That's something else than running 100 metres in 9 seconds.


Before the performance, 10 August at Festival Boulevard, I was expecting a skilful, yet fairly standard stand-up comedy about the Fall, the actual subject of Milton's 1674 poem. What Ben Duke, founder of English dance theatre company Lost Dog, shows is much more than that. He takes the poem as the occasion for a play with identity, with dance and with an awful lot of humour, to grab you by the throat harder and harder at the end. In the end, his version of Paradise Lost is no longer just about God's rivalry with the Devil, but much more about fatherhood, about relationships, about loss and Janis Joplin's version of Summertime.

How this is all intertwined cannot be explained. What the effect is is obvious: Duke commands admiration, but at the end is also the friend who wants to help you out of your troubles, because he lost everything that started so beautifully. And this in a show that is both dance, performance and stand-up comedy, all performed with admirable craftsmanship. This is perfection we rarely see in our theatres.

Not that we don't have admirable craftsmanship here. Indeed, we have bins full of it, for instance in the form of André Manuel. This is a man we once pigeonholed as 'cabaret'. In doing so, we do this versatile poet, writer, musician and composer a disservice. For years, he has struggled with his public image as a quirky buffoon, for instance by constantly searching for the limits of what the cabaret audience still accepts. Especially in the south, he regularly gets into trouble with theatre directors or audience members.


Manuel hates laziness and so his latest attempt to step off the beaten track is exciting anyway. The programme XIX (19) he now presents in a tent in Den Bosch's Citadel is a follow-up to an earlier collaboration with Flemish performer and kindred spirit Geert Hautekiet. Four years ago, I missed their first collaboration. That programme, 'The Song, Opus 1 in G major for Opel Kadett and two singers', like XIX, was a long through-composed song of an hour and a half.

Two guitars, keys, a few pre-recorded samples and repeat tapes, is all they need for a programme in which much is fixed, but there is also room to improvise. The theme of XIX is 'boundary' and it is André Manuel who is best at crossing that boundary. It is simply his nature and it makes for an exciting battle between two race artists who are well matched.

Hautekiet may be a little too mild by Dutch standards, Manuel is definitely too coarse by Flemish standards, so what a tour throughout the Dutch-speaking world will bring the two is still uncertain. They will take it on, and what is certain is that XIX will be even more beautiful in a while, than it already is.

Good to know

Both performances can still be seen at Boulevard in Den Bosch. Be quick, as tickets are flying out the door. Information.

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

Private Membership (month)
5€ / Maand
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Own mastodon account
Access to our archives
Small Membership (month)
18€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of less than €250,000 per year
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Posting press releases yourself
Extra attention in news coverage
Large Membership (month)
36€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of more than €250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Share press releases with our audience
Extra attention in news coverage
Premium Newsletter (substack)
5 trial subscriptions
All our podcasts

Payments are made via iDeal, Paypal, Credit Card, Bancontact or Direct Debit. If you prefer to pay manually, based on an invoice in advance, we charge a 10€ administration fee

*Only for annual membership or after 12 monthly payments

en_GBEnglish (UK)