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Tamar van den Dop legendary in slightly over-explained version of Judith Herzberg's Passion Trilogy 

That you are suddenly back in 1996 at Black Snow, the television series in which actress Tamar van den Dop managed to hook an entire generation of viewers at the time. Since then, her raven-black curls have turned into a dazzling cloud of silver, but those who go to the National Theatre's Distress trilogy suddenly see that young Tamar again. A marvel of talent in acting and grimacing, leading to a legendary portrayal of the Jewish bride Lea in Judith Herzberg's 1982 masterpiece, now reprised, for the first time, 40 years later.

So in Dutch theatre, we have a funny way of dealing with masterpieces. We note mastery when it appears and then put it in a windowless cupboard, where it is allowed to catch dust. No professional company will touch it. Nor is anyone going to sit on a grant committee to fund a reprise, once every few years, of that masterpiece. A film adaptation, okay, but with a bit of bad luck, the theatrical experience of a legend like Leedvermaak will be limited to the four thousand Amsterdammers who in 1982 the only series experienced at Amsterdam's Frascati theatre, with that golden cast (Kitty Courbois!) and that delicate direction by Leonard Frank.

That Eric de Vroedt now dares to re-stage Leedvermaak together with the later-written sequels Rijgdraad and Simon can therefore be seen as a heroic act for that reason alone.

Family relations

This Leedvermaak Trilogie is a five-hour sit that can be kept up well, thanks to the acting of Tamar van den Dop in particular, but certainly also Jaap Spijkers as Simon, father of Lea, but later also of her half-brother, fathered by her bosom friend and ex of her husband Dory, exceptionally well played by Malou Gorter. To which Rick Paul van Mulligen provides much-needed refreshment as an unreliable father of seven children with a reluctant relative, but especially in a double role as a handyman.

Which is already somewhat obvious from the previous paragraph: Judith Herzberg weaves a rather intricate web of parent-child relationships in the three plays, with the Second World War as a constantly present keynote in the background. The lives of the Jewish and non-Jewish characters are all marked by the Holocaust in one way or another, and subsequent generations do not manage to escape that doom either.


De Vroedt has made it a stylised performance, doing his best to give Judith Herzberg's humour all the space it needs. Unfortunately, this succeeds only partially. Especially the first part, in which a severely abbreviated version of the play Leedvermaak is played, suffers rather from the emphasis all the actors place on the passive-aggressive turns in the text. It becomes a bit laugh-or-shoot that way, whereas Herzberg's brilliance is to be found precisely in the unintentional casualness with which people wound each other with words.

It is more wanton stone-throwing à la The Office than the accidental pin-pricks with disastrous consequences that we also know from Herzberg's other (also underplayed) work, such as Scratch and And/Or. That's quite a shame. I would have loved to experience again how that works: hearing a dialogue, only to find out later how bad it was, when people have long since moved on.

Interpretation becomes even more of a problem in the sequels. In some monologues it turns red on red, and you get the feeling you have ended up in an evening of old-fashioned school theatre. It is a testament to the talent of the actors and the quality of Herzberg that nowhere does it get really embarrassing, but there is definitely something lacking in this directorial vision.

Sound reinforcement

I spent a night wondering what could have happened, as Eric de Vroedt is usually better on the mark. Is it due to his use of sound reinforcement? Indeed, the performance has an interesting build-up in the use of microphones. From almost no amplification at the beginning, to almost fully amplified, music and all, in part three.

So the Passion section is virtually 'acoustic': the actors sound natural, which has long been unheard of in theatre, where even the smallest venues still play with contact microphones.


Perhaps the play sounded better in the intimate Theater aan het Spui in The Hague, where the press premiere was originally scheduled. Now, in that large (unfortunately not filled to the brim) hall of Utrecht's Stadsschouwburg, the actors seemed to be overcompensating. Perhaps they were afraid of the "louder! louder!" shouts and whistles from hearing aids that many of them still remember from the unamplified primal days of Sunday matinees at the Royal Theatre.

It will be hard to miss even one of Herzberg's language jewels in this extraordinarily necessary performance. You can also see that as a gain.

Either way, no reason not to go and watch.

Good to know Good to know
Distress Trilogy by Judith Herzberg by The National Theatre. Tickets are still available.

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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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