We always want to do the best, but usually fail horribly. Whether this is our habitual way of thinking, or whether we owe that idea to Ovid, we will never know. We can say, however, that the literary work 'Metamorphoses', published by the Roman Ovid in the first year of our era, is the single most influential book in Western history after the Bible. If only because it gave us a word for cynical leaders of world powers and their vassals: narcissism.
So good that Kwatta, the Gelderland-based youth theatre company based in Nijmegen, is including it in its repertoire. And even better that director Josee Hussaarts had it adapted by Jibbe Willems, one of the country's most productive quality theatre writers (is that a word? It is now). Willems has mastered language that appeals to a younger audience without excluding the mature part of humanity - if any. He adapted some of the 15 chapters of Ovid's Metamorphoses into an extremely lively and rhythmic text, played by four actors who are very much in tune with each other. They are accompanied by Camerata Trajectina, a club of musicians who have mastered everything from medieval to hip-hop.
Metamorphoses, as the word suggests, describes changes that take place thanks to the capriciousness of people and especially gods. A hunter who accidentally sees goddess Diana naked and is therefore turned into a deer by her, or Narcissus, who rejects the love of goddess Echo and therefore falls on his reflection in a pond: none of these are pleasant stories that Ovid gives us, and so in a youth performance, for eight years and above, it sometimes hits you pretty raw.
Actaeon, for instance, that beautiful hunter, who loves his little dogs so much, but becomes prey to their instincts because of Diana's prudishness: as the possessor of two such darlings, this hits me extra hard. Indeed, it is all well told, convincingly acted and staged without too much respect for sensitive children's souls.
Above all, it is a feast of imagination and language, and brought back in me the old desire to find and explore stories precisely in books - not films - that I have never heard of before. In a disenchanted country like ours, not enough writers can defy our youngest imagination, because you take that with you throughout your life.
What we don't include is Kwatta itself, because that youth theatre company that is achieving great international success is ceasing to exist. Internal hassles, conflicts between 'business' and 'artistic' at a time when budget cuts were hitting the province hard anyway. The regional government did not dare to keep the company afloat, also because of the Cultural Council's lack of confidence in it - for business and publicity reasons. So, for the second time this century, Nijmegen's Theatre Het Badhuis is coming up empty, after earlier the equally internationally successful group Teneeter was deemed too obsolete by committees and administrators.
You can argue about the wisdom of such decisions for a long time. What you don't need to argue about is the lesson Josee Hussaarts and Jibbe Willems give us with their interpretation of Ovid. They tell us that while it may make one extremely discouraged that all attempts to make life better are doomed to fail, it is wonderful to keep trying despite everything.
That is comforting. Albeit rather meagre. But that's all we have for now.