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'I Say Sorry' masterfully makes tangible what a madness our slavery past is.  

Saying sorry seems to be difficult, if the songs about it are to be believed, and if we measure the time it takes Dutch governments to do it. But sorry is also very easy, if you consider how often you are not pushed aside in the queue for something or other, after the word 'sorry' has sounded behind you, or - if it hasn't - that you say it yourself instead of the boor in question.

'Sorry'. So with that, much has been dismissed. It has been said, and now no further whining. Very good that there is finally a show about that.

Sorry, with that I do a huge disservice to the show that Aluin and Raymi Sambo is making about presenting it. After all, "I say sorry, don't I?" is a rather unique performance for at least our language area. A mixed group of actors, black and white mixed together, finally thematises what that means: playing with racism and differences, and then also about that fraught subject of our slavery past.

Apartheid

The Dutch theatre world is - as recently revealed, the film industry - not really 'diverse' if you look at colour alone. I would even speak of persistent apartheid, which is very, very slowly diminishing somewhat. For a long time, we had theatre groups for every minority, which allowed the dominantly white mainstream and marching theatre to consider itself immune from having to become more representative in cast, production and storytelling. (Not to mention audiences).

Seven years ago I wrote about it when I saw the performance Race with a black cast for a black audience at 'debate centre' de Balie, while at the Stadsschouwburg (now ITA) a snow-white esemble played the play Othello, with a cream-white actor in the title role of a black character. Funnily enough, that version of Race also went unnoticed until Het Nationale Theater picked up the text a few years later and immediately won awards with it, thanks to an indeed wonderful leading role by Romana Vrede.

Star-studded

So black and white together in Dutch theatre is quite rare. Then when the play is also about Keti Koti and tours a predominantly white-audience theatre circuit, it is news. So is the fact that it was showered with stars at its premiere.

Now there is something to that, because five stars at Oerol should always be taken with a grain of sea salt, according to most theatre programmers: with your feet in the warm dune sand, seagulls within shooting distance and cycle paths full of like-minded and like-minded audiences, a performance is easily good. So Wednesday 28 September was the real baptism of fire on the wooden floor of Utrecht's Theater Kikker.

Typical Alum

That baptism by fire, "Ik zeg toch sorry?" stood up extremely well. The performance, in which the stupidity of slaveholding Holland is ridiculed in a typical Alum-like manner, starts with some clumsy explanations about roles and characters, when a white actor tries to explain in great detail that what he says on stage is not yet what he is as a person.

I almost wanted to say something about that, until I realised that Alum, and writer Erik Snel, regularly plays for (younger) audiences with no experience of theatrical conventions at all. People like me, who have been coming to theatres for decades, sometimes want to forget how marginal our love has become in a world ruled by Youtube and Tiktok.

The collaboration with the very charismatic Raymi Sambo adds spice to the evening. Recently, I was at a writers' afternoon at - entirely coincidentally - De Balie debating centre, where Sambo profiled himself as someone who has writers for breakfast, at least: he rarely takes work written by a third party for granted. Hence, he always chooses to co-author. Logical, of course, especially on this topic. In this piece, by the way, that firm personal interference is also the subject of the event, and that is to the credit of the makers.

Celebrating abolition?

You don't have to expect much psychology and fourth-wall theatre from this company. We see actors doing a play in which people explain their motives in speeches, and it should come as no surprise that especially the white people involved in the abolition of slavery on 1 July 1863 are morally rather shaky. However, the play is not one-sided, though of course there is a fairly obvious culprit and victim in this history.

So in the end, it is also about the question of what on earth Keti Koti is worth celebrating on 1 July. Is it actually worth celebrating when a country stops a crime after centuries? The questions this piece raises about that prompt more thought than I have in recent years, and that's saying something.

The fact that the tour of this play pretty much coincides with the time our prime minister says he needs between announcing that he is going to say sorry for the Dutch role in the slavery past, and the time when that will happen, sometime in 2023, is a painfully ironic coincidence.

All going to watch.

Good to know Good to know

I Say Sorry is on tour: tour dates and backgrounds.

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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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