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Why laughter is best left to us more often: Joseph Toonga teaches theatre rage #tfboulevard

Think Pussy Riot, think Rammstein, maybe think Nina Hagen before she found Jesus and mix that up nice and fierce. Then you get something that is basically an insane festival act. Raging female punk in a beer- and smoke-soaked nightclub, ferocious moshpits full of people who really have something to dance out of their souls. It's all there at Club Gewalt. I saw their latest project Die Hexe at Theatre Festival Boulevard and was impressed by the quality of the vocals, the samples, the audacity and left the tent with some enthusiasm.

Yet something gnawed at it. Die Hexe is about the ongoing femicide, which at times in our history is even organised by the government. It is then about the witch burnings (or other gruesome ways of robbing lives) that destroyed tens of thousands of women in our Middle Ages. Think also of the hatred heaped on any woman who raises her head above the ground in our 'Christian' civilisation. Clinton, Kaag, Merkel and Halsema: their behaviour is under a microscope that is never pointed at men. The anger they get heaped on them in reasonlessness disproportionate to their alleged misconduct.

Harmless

Enough material, then, for a ferocious performance by four women who can do something and also look good doing it. And ferocious it is, but unfortunately also totally harmless. And that's because they are not a punk band are, but a punk band playing. And that wouldn't even be so bad, if they at least didn't let it be known all the time that they were playing a punk band.

Once upon a time, the 'transparent' style of acting was canonised at Dutch theatre schools. After all, groups like Dood Paard and 't Barre Land had achieved nice results with it. Transparency offers air because the actor stays next to his character. It allows you to build bridges between Shakespeare and modern man. You can also destroy everything with it, which unfortunately happens with Club Gewalt's Die Hexe.

Rudi Carell

How nice it would have been if, as a (male) viewer, I had really been taken out of my comfort zone by the fact that the anger was not so obviously played and commented on. How much I would have been forced to think when they were not making goofy faces at their Rudi Carell-German that - if consistently implemented - would have made me laugh? Now the fat half-hour of fat musical theatre was so full of emergency exits that it became totally harmless. In this case, with this subject matter, I thought that was the festival's biggest missed opportunity. But that laughing off tensions happens more often.

Monkey Rage

How different it is with Joseph Toonga's 'Born to Manifest'. Here, no ironic distance, but a confrontation with our darkest emotions. A black man, type tree of a guy, dances a furious dance and turns into that which many white people secretly think of when they think of big black men: a monkey, a ferocious beast of nature with uncontrollable aggression. For white audiences, that image, danced by a black dancer, is far beyond just uncomfortable. This is an indictment of our ingrained thinking, and it is at the same time an indictment of black men who start behaving accordingly.

In Born to Manifest, the older man transfers his anger to a younger one, who tries in vain to break the spiral. This is a theme that is carried through in Born To Protest, the open-air version that is a sequel to it, but which was shown earlier during this festival. While in Born to Protest there is still a tiny bit of hope at the end, in Born to Manifest everything is still despair and oppression.

Sublime

Good to experience, however uncomfortable. This is where beauty, fear and anger come together to produce something sublime. Because levity is something for afterwards, when we try to 'put things in a place'.

Joseph Toonga is in real life an exceptionally nice man. I experienced that during a conversation that I had with him earlier. He just doesn't need to manifest that kindness during his performance, because that performance is a work of art in itself. Being nice in it would destroy everything. That the young women of Club Gewalt in real life are probably very nice too, they make clear about every minute of their their witchy performance. They should take a look at Toonga. And learn how to do that: take yourself, but especially your audience, seriously.

Being nice is something you do at home.

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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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