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Benjamin Verdonck renews, for a moment, your view of the world. At Theatre Festival Boulevard #tfboulevard

One of the things that make Boulevard so special in the Dutch festival landscape is its generous focus on Belgian performances. Where Dutch theatres programme less and less work from across the southern borders, Boulevard continues to offer a stage to a large number of Belgian makers.

Learning to live together

Once again, this year's work provides a wide variety. At the festival centre is The passer-by by Michai Geyzen, who created a wordless performance about living together under the wings of youth theatre company Laika. Four men from different backgrounds (and with suitcases of vastly different sizes) meet in a kind of reception centre. A voice in a foreign language gives them instructions. With great curiosity they observe each other, after which the first alliances are soon forged.

The passer-by excels in acting midway between mime and slapstick. The four actors try to determine their position in relation to each other and the space. This involves many clashes and misunderstandings. With their sharp timing and witty facial expressions, the actors turn it into a real theatre party. The tall Patrick Vervueren in particular impresses with his quiet acting. With him, every moment of fright, irritation or surprise is a work of art in itself.

Moreover, it is particularly clever how Geyzen and his cast manage to tell a crisp story completely without words. Despite not understanding each other's language, the men jointly build a house, which, however, quickly becomes too small. It moves the men to vote via a show of hands on who should leave the house. The heartbreaking result is fortunately quickly resolved, but in the meantime, the image of eviction and displacement as a result of a popularity contest does stick. Through clever inventions such as these, it outlines The passer-by very accessible how group dynamics work, and how fear and solidarity compete for primacy in them.

Happiness cannot be forced

Unfortunately, the performance succeeds Lubricant for life somewhat lacklustre in its artistic intent. The performance by Antwerp-based company Woodman has, the makers say at the outset, set itself the goal of making the audience happy. To achieve this, they have prepared several scenes around the theme of happiness, which they will play in an order determined by the audience. The tone at the beginning is overly exuberant, as if we have joined a satirical show about positivity gurus.

However, nothing of that tone - or of any overarching idea - remains in the individual scenes. The skits are at the level of a bon voyage evening at a high school and excel in superficiality and bland jokes. When some of the actors try to strike a more sincere tone in their scenes, it falls flat because there are no sharp choices in structure and acting style, so everything blends into a bland sameness. Precisely because the makers are so frontally committed to making their audience happy, all their attempts to do so feel forced and, as the show progresses, desperate.

A renewed view of the world

Someone who does manage effortlessly to evoke a feeling of indefinable happiness is Benjamin Verdonck. In recent years, the visual theatre maker has mastered the art of making life-size peepboxes. They are puppet show constructions operated from the side with strings. Instead of hand puppets, Verdonck performs abstract forms. The superimposition of different surfaces thus creates beguiling forms. You get the feeling you are looking at a painting that keeps changing shape.

Even more so than in his earlier creations, in RAINBOW the effect of light is central. The shapes that pass by your eye are unambiguous, rectangular planes, but it is the play with colour and darkness that makes the show so enchanting and dynamic. RAINBOW begins with shades of grey and almost complete darkness, giving the introduction of colour a euphoric feel. It almost seems like sorcery what Verdonck and co-creator Lucas Van Haesbroeck conjure up. Lieven Stockx's soundtrack adds depth and rapture. After 25 minutes you are already outside again, but your view of the world has been renewed for a while.

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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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