Marietje d'Hane Scheltema, her name be praised. How corny I used to think she was, with her neat rhymes with which she managed to transform classical Greek and Roman drinking bouts into Kralings-judged bake sale parties. And how wrong I could be. Because how well her translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses works in the hands of the people at Alum. Yesterday was the premiere of a show that is touring schools that still teach classical languages, and the ladies and gentlemen grammar school students are being served up something delicious.
What I didn't used to read in d'Hane Scheltema's translations director Erik Snel makes audible. His two actors, Boris van Bommel and Maxime Vandommele, make it effortlessly palpable. They do so with no other tool than their voices and their bodies. No fuss with costumes and sets, apart from an occasional yellow jacket. That is all you need to bring a series of ancient stories to life.
To Ovid, a poet who lived over two thousand years ago, we owe much. His poem 'Metamorphoses' butterflies through classical mythology of divine arbitrariness and human hubris. The serial work gave us - among many others - the stories of the Minotaur, Narcissus and Pyramus and Thisbe. The starting point is that we are all 'shapeshifters'. What dies, reappears alive in another form, in another place. That makes this series, with its sometimes gruesome and heartbreaking scenes, especially comforting.
Earlier this year, the much-hyped Nijmegen youth theatre group Kwatta bid farewell to audiences with a beautifully designed and very musical adaptation of the Metamorphoses. Gorgeous and also sad, but incomparable in everything to this version of Alum, which puts more emphasis on the comfort we can derive from the fact that nothing perishes, but everything changes.
Boris van Bommel and Maxime Vandommele take you along as viewers without letting go of their adult playfulness for even a moment. Not an inch of exaggeration and completely transparent, they let you share in their own fascination with the stories. Thus, they change shape and character with no more than a single word, a single gesture. This no-nonsense approach is a hallmark of the work of director Erik Snel, who, with this performance, truly puts a provisional crown on 30 years of working to set the best tone for bringing the classics up to date.
And topical is and remains Ovid, for his work was already dealing in the first century of our era with gender issues, although they were not then issues, but was the fluidity of everything, including what was male or female, a given. In Alum's performance, it comes along in a side sentence, without any emphasis, just to indicate that things we worry about now are as old as, I will say it: the road to Kralingen.
With thanks to Marietje. From Erasmiaans.