Two men. Not even very muscular, not even very tough. But what dockworkers. And what simplicity to tell something really beautiful. One rolls himself up like a stone and the other rolls that stone up a mountain. That mountain is made up of stage sections, each at least half a metre apart in height. And that stone does not cooperate in any way, so the guy doing the lifting actually lifts 80 kilos up the mountain each time. Once at the top, the stone turns into water. Or rather, the boy who rolled to the top gets up and moves down very smoothly. After which the lugger follows him, the boy turns back into a stone and the whole game starts again. And all this without too much emotion, with an almost meek calm, or even loving resignation. And those were just the first few minutes.
Sorry for this extended description of something that is only the beginning of 'The Place to Be', a performance that was shown last week in Theatre Kikker's Winter Collection. Koen van der Heijden and Hidde Aans-Verkade, fresh graduates of the Mime course in Amsterdam, showed that they know their classics. Not only the age-old classical myth of Sisyphus, who for incorrigible hubris was punished by Zeus with the obligation to roll a block of marble up a mountain until eternity, which, once it reached the top, rolled back down again.
They also know the classic saying that stagecraft is an art of credible transformation, which requires little more than iron concentration and a firm belief in your story. You can play a fried egg so well that everyone in the room believes it unconditionally.
The two men are relentless movers, and their performance radiates love and craftsmanship. You don't expect something like this at a festival where Theater Kikker mainly spotlights novice makers. Because novice makers, that means imperfect stories, brave attempts, embarrassing cases of self-aggrandisement and disarming bravado. All experienced. Occasional total weirdness, too.
That piece was called Drek, and at first it was. Actress Maja Westerveld played a very corny posh character in a very corny setting in a very corny situation. I thought I had stumbled into bad cabaret and doubted the critical ability of programmer Jolie Vreeburg.
Fortunately, the performance lasted long enough to not only keep me wondering that, but also to let the crazy, nightmarish story and play get deeper under my skin. And then it happens that I begin to appreciate it, despite the horribly giggling girlfriends in the stands next to me.
Drek is absurd theatre, totally over the top and utterly restless. Yet the iron consistency of the play and the total derailment of the story make it something that sticks with you. In a good way. Though I still have no idea what I was watching. Would I appreciate the lyrics more if they were spoken in a more 'Dutch' way? More subdued, more neutral? I fearfully suspect so.
I found this Dutch down-to-earth approach in the monologue ''Back' by Jouman Fattal. Her transformations are minimal but effective, and also a little dangerous. She tells her own story, von doubts about a role in the 'good' resistance in Syria, punctuated by small appearances of the characters she talks about. A strong play by a promising actress, but I already knew that, after I had spoken to her.
More difficult was the science fiction show Disconnect by Robin Coops. Here, the playwright had clearly, and rather spectacularly, lost out to the anecdote baker and the special effects. A story about people uploading their brains to The Cloud and what to think of that as a straggler. Funny that so much can be done with a single video projector. Too thin to really stick with the viewer.
And then there was that rare case of old versus young, which I, as an old punk, was suddenly troubled by. On Thursday, it was Club Gewalt's turn to pay tribute to punk. You know, that period sometime between 1976 and 1980 when it was common to be shit-faced on stage, demolish the dressing room, vomit all over the audience and do everything but play well.
How different it was with the youngsters of Club Gewalt. Dress-wise, they had done quite something rough, and also something with make-up. But mostly it was a kind of oilily version of Johnny Rotten, supported for the occasion by excellent musicians and perfect vocals, also polyphonic.
I thought back with nostalgia to that evening when my then legendary punk band Xenox managed to empty the entire auditorium of the Comenius school in Capelle aan den Ijssel by using real smoke bombs made of stars and PVC pipe for a change. Because punk. And life-threatening. So good. But not for our careers.
I felt that tendency for rowdy smoke bombs now too, but then again, the people of Club Gewalt were too good, too beautiful, too virtuoso and too just plain fun for that. So don't call it punk next time, folks, and everything will be fine. Someday. You have a whole career ahead of you then.