Skip to content

I had a perfect near-death experience in the Amsterdam theatre #HF17

Sometimes you don't need a lot of words for a great story. Often, few words also require more effort than many words. That idea knew Blaise Pascal ever to coin. Yesterday, on the penultimate day of the seventieth Holland Festival, the statement was reinforced in another, unexpected way. Australia's Back to Back Theatre told the story of life in death in barely eighty minutes and perhaps as many words. Words that required excessive effort from the speakers. After all, they all have intellectual disabilities.

So first learning point of such a performance is already in: that I became aware of how fundamental language is, and how much a single word can already be worth. You start listening differently to the biblical statement 'In the beginning was the word', when that single word already means a hundred-metre run for the speaker.

Air bubble

Lady Eats Apple, as the show was called, plays in a very large bubble. In a way that is equally hard to figure out, the company's technicians have managed to cram an entire inflatable tennis hall into Amsterdam's Stadsschouwburg. You sit in it, apparently in the spot where the stage normally is, and watch as the curtain is tight against the baroque balconies of the 19th-century bonbonnière. During the first 20 minutes, in which God gives way to the old gods for his creations Adam and Eve, the room is black.

Twenty minutes later, he is suddenly heavenly white. Literally heavenly, because then, for more than 15 minutes, all we hear are stories of people who have survived a near-death experience. The bubble we are in is white, borderless, dimensionless. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel reveals itself later, in a very simple projection.

Near death

This second volume makes a deep impression. The experiences described feel real, and though there are now numerous reasonable-sounding physiological explanations for the tunnel of light, the exit and the blissful sense of protection that experiencers invariably report, the feeling that there may well be more remains enticing.

What happens next is disconcerting and therefore as hilarious as it is sad. The white bubble is pulled away. A fresh wind blows towards us and suddenly the whole audience is looking at the equally majestic and empty hall of the Stadsschouwburg. The working light is on, the mentally challenged actors are doing what people sometimes do: they clean up. They bicker about division of labour, they fall in love.

Return to heaven

Survivors of a near-death experience often recount the harsh disappointment of returning among the living. The sober reality, the noise, the fuss: everything feels banal and distant. It's a wonder how those few actors can make that feeling a reality.

It does feel a bit different after this performance to be a mere mortal. someone who cannot book a return ticket to heaven, but is condemned to a single ticket. I decided to look around me even more closely from now on. To better recount what I experience here. Life is too short to look at everything through an Apple.

Good to know

The play plays two more times today. Try to go.



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)