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Boulevard opens with great ambition. It will be exciting regardless.

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The Theater aan de Parade is slowly but surely starting to become the blot of cultural politics in Den Bosch. The outdated theatre has too low ceilings, too much plush, asbestos and past to still be a credit to the Brabant provincial capital. Viktorien van Hulst, director of the now 35-year-old Theatre Festival Boulevard, actually got really angry during her opening speech on 1 August. Angry at the building, angry at the soggy procedures, angry at the pressure the hassle puts on the festival's future. Because, if the politicians in Bossche suddenly decide to demolish the theatre, the biggest summer festival in the southern Netherlands will be without a large hall for a decade or so.

Not to mention the guarantee of budget overruns and disappointing operating budgets, because councillors invariably underbid the tender, builders in such prestige projects always double the budget, and art ends up paying for all that because it has to ensure profitable operations.


Yet there is every reason for celebration on the beautiful square below the impressive St John's. Theatre Festival Boulevard is a mature arts festival, where even, or perhaps especially, the offerings in the small tents between the catering pavilions are remarkably artistic. A first glance at the programme offers remarkably few little performances intended purely for spectators who have shaken off their critical faculties thanks to summer and booze. Although yesterday I did experience a rather fresh sample of do-anything theatre with first-aiders from the Veenfabriek, but that will probably grow.

In protest against the soft plush of the theatre, a festival stand with plastic bucket seats had been erected for the opening performance in the main auditorium. So that we would realise that theatre is also just hard work, Van Hulst urged us. This turned out to be doubly true, as the slope of the stand proved too small for NTGent's play The Living. As a result, you saw nothing of that part of the play that took place at the front of the stage, and that spoiled the fun a bit. Although, of course, the word 'fun' is not really appropriate for a play that deals with suicide.

Freedom of choice

Young German director Ersan Mondtag, now proclaimed hype among his eastern neighbours, shows two mirrored lives, of two neighbouring women in numbered flats, in The Living. Or are they two possibilities of the same life? They could be, because Mondtag wants to say something about destiny and freedom of choice with this live-performed video art. One woman's suicide does not seem inevitable, but the way Mondtag forces it at the end is more akin to the overly well-made final episode of a Netflix series than something you can muse on for a long time. (spoiler alert:) Something with a Leopold II beard and an actor who decides theatre is just theatre.

This was only day 1, and like every year, this edition of Boulevard will bring some absolute highlights to make up for embarrassing misses like The Living. That alone makes a festival like this worthwhile. Not to mention the way Boulevard is dragging all kinds of social issues into the theatre this year and organising a low-pressure afternoon on Mondays for those for whom it has all just become too much.


Or about that brilliant way the audience opening was saved. The planned act had been cancelled due to the rain. Instead, a club of dancers were lifted from their hotel beds whose dance was actually meant for an oh-la-la moment later in the evening. Now, in front of an audience of children and senior citizens in the front row, they did a neatly sanitised version, which could just go on Facebook.

Such adaptability. You really need to be in Den Bosch for that.

Good to know Good to know
Theatre Festival Boulevard in Den Bosch continues until 11 August. 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

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