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Chosen to enjoy magisterial Hans Kesting

The restless head in front of the torso, fists nervously searching for grip under the pale blue jumper. His life a relentless affliction of generations of oppression under factory labour, alcoholism and domestic violence. And deep love nonetheless, between this tormented father and son.

Until almost the end of the monologue "Who killed my father?", the high bed remains untouched. Only then do we learn that the father received a heavy weight on his back in the factory, became bedridden and dependent on benefits.

And that this is a French piece, because the cuts in social services, accompanied by tax cuts for the rich, are the fault of Chirac, Sarkozy, Macron and their ministers of health and labour. The victim's tirade directed against them seems to echo from a distant past for the Dutch; socio-economic oppression, what's that? Surely it was only about skin colour and race, invariably confused with identity in countless opinions in obediently compliant media?

Pamphleteer

Qui a tué mon père came out in 2018, an 85-page blazing sketch of the harsh life of his alcoholic, violent father by the then 25-year-old sociologist Edouard Louis; and his relationship to him, an unwanted gay son. To whom he is ashamed, yet whom he loves.

To Louis' chagrin, the novel was embraced by Emmanuel Macron's court at the Elysee. While the author previously wrote a flaming manifesto in Le Monde for the (re)resurrection of the intellectual, solidarity left, declaring with 1,400 other signatories from French culture: 'The Yellow Berets, that's us!'

By then, the play has already seen the 'murder' of the father by the narrator's brother, putting an end to a telling family feud in which the son's orientation is also at stake. Initially only the misanthropy of violence and alcoholism is at play, gradually the son's orientation comes more and more into the picture and the father's ambivalence towards him: disgust and shame versus love and even for a moment pride in the high education he will do.

Love seeking mutual paths, until the unexpected apotheosis in which father and son find each other in the victimhood of the one and the social criticism of the other; touching symbiosis. After son-love as a child always vainly - literally too - seeks father's attention with singing and defiance as Barbie Girl. 'Look then father, look then', but he doesn't look. You hold your heart for a beating.

Oxygen bottle

But father does buy the DVD of the film Titanic, even in the 'special edition', when his son asks for it for his birthday, to father's horror. The present is on his bed; giving it in person is impossible. Picture and sound play on a TV set. Son watches countless times, father sings along remotely. Far too expensive it was, but the father contributes more surprises, like a day out to the sea from the textbook allowance.

Alternating between the father and son in monologue, or paraphrasing the mother, Hans Kesting beams menacingly and helplessly across the stage for an hour and a half, with that amazing facial expressiveness, timing, voice and intonation that make him an unrivalled actor. I find the physicality and language with which Kesting portrays this nameless father through the eyes of the son so magisterial that words fail me. From the coughing smoking in the bright spotlight behind a door opened for that purpose to the pent-up anger, that inability that plagues us all somewhere; it is all as appalling as it is sympathetic.

Beauty in misery, directed by Ivo van Hove. With brilliant lighting and Jan Versweyveld's set with a wall with bumps from the father's impotent fists, with on the other wall the symbolic big white oxygen bottle that becomes for us viewers from question mark to exclamation point.

Being allowed to enjoy this art as an observer, even together with your son, feels like being chosen and makes you happy

(And who killed the father: those in power, or us in the room; the chosen few with money for culture and other pleasures of life, who have their wealth produced for a few euros an hour and delivered to their door for 1.50 euros a package?)

Good to know Good to know
Seen: Who killed my father, International Theatre Amsterdam. Still to be seen until 30 August in a chilled theatre. See also the trailer, and then take the holiday pay or the slush fund to go and see this.

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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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