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'Renew yourself, or languish.' How the @hollandfestival gives regulars a refreshing kick in the ass.

That's at least one mistake you can make: booking for a Christoph Marthaler performance and then expecting something new to happen. Yet I did it, on my last visit to this year's Holland Festival. Someone had said that the Swiss theatre-maker who has been making performances since the beginning of his career in which lost souls drink and sing songs in a darkly panelled room because all is lost anyway, had reinvented himself. Alas, last night, 28 June, I was sitting in Amsterdam's Stadsschouwburg theatre watching a dark panelled room in which lost souls sang songs because all was lost anyway.

Blue button

Sharp readers will have noticed that not everything was the same: there was no drinking this time. Seems to have to do with the fact that Marthaler himself was wise enough to leave the bottle. Because, it has to be said, sometime around the year 2010, I had lost it because everything did get very muggy on the scene of the burgundian Swiss.

So really, it should have given me a benevolent peace that everything had stayed the same and Marthal's liver was still there. There were still people singing songs, though this time they were no harbour songs, as with previous highlights, but mostly Christian songs. These work a little less on the nostalgia muscles here. 'A firm fortress is our God', is one of those songs that normal people get drunk from, because it reminds them of a childhood with not so fine sides.


What remains is Marthaler's usual highlight halfway through, when three old Hammond organs are brought in to do and moppie Procol Harum, and something with close harmony singing urinals. And after that, this deep-sea adventure is ready to babble on until the irrevocable end. which then again is not an end. Because yes, the panelling this time represents a room at the bottom of Lake Constance, at the deepest tri-border point in the world. Something about refugees and resistant bacteria.

Everything the same, the actors a decade grayer and more austere. That feeling of total stagnation is not a nice feeling to leave the auditorium with. This was further inculcated by the festival organisers because in the ever infamous Theatre Café, the lively beats had by now reached the pain threshold. Afterparty for the lively and new show Crowd (also discussed here), specially designed for participants in the HFYoung programme, for which the main requirement is to be no older than 39.

So I, older than 39, stumbled outside where beer and the cooling evening breeze beckoned. It's not nice to feel old before the time comes. And exactly that was what the Marthaler and afterparty combo gave me.


Which led me to think that this closing of the Holland Festival is more brilliant than I initially suspected. Art is not about age, it is about mindset. Marthaler celebrates stasis, but also affirms something fundamental in the arts: usually, an artist is only capable of one work of art, and she will keep repeating, improving, rehashing it forever. After all, the Red Hot Chili Peppers also release a CD every so many years, with slightly different titles, but the same music.

Such self-replicating art is there for a reason. It urges you not to become like them. Because you can also keep reinventing yourself. Constantly changing tack, seeking a different course. After all, at this year's Holland Festival, at least one artist passed by who had done just that his whole life.

Salvation is at hand. Find the Bowie in yourself!

Or am I now a nostalgic old bag clinging to his past?

Difficult, mind you.

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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