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The butcher in Roelofarendsveen, his unwanted gay son and Annie M.G.

Sometimes you suddenly discover a gem of culture, banned from playlists by the tough theatre market. Like Wil van der Meer with his French chanson programme of translated songs by Annie Schmidt.

As an actor, singer, director and teacher, Wil van der Meer is not first rate, but equally indispensable to Dutch culture.

The numerous, indispensable roles prove the creative talent of Wil, whom many thus vaguely recognise, but not by name. In many musicals, films and plays (National Theatre), Wil van der Meer was a mainstay. And then, anno 2022, he is one of the victims of the corona crisis hitting the cultural sector extra hard.

Created, with the help of translators, a programme of French-language numbers of Dutch songs by Annie (M.G.) Schmidt, interspersed with stories of his own childhood and experiences with Annie. For for decades, Wil was one of the dear friends who accompanied her in Holland and southern France. "We told stories, read plays weekly for 12 years at Annie's home in Rodenrijs, Amsterdam and southern France, laughed, argued, and prepared meals."

Who still understands French?

"A Soiree with Annie M.G." would premiere on 1 April 2020 at theatre Bellevue in Amsterdam. Then comes corona and the rest is history, literally for Wil van der Meer himself. The show ends up in the wings. It probably does not meet modern demands in terms of diversity, nor those of the dominant marketing. Who among the younger generations is still interested in the person of Annie Schmidt? Who still understands French?

Pity, and unnecessary. Wil van der Meer offers on-screen Dutch texts of the translated classics like 'Vluchten kan niet meer'. And tells delightful anecdotes in Dutch about Annie and her surrounding company, linking them to his own history. Which may also be there, as the ninth child of a family where a father and butcher in the South Holland village of Roelofarendsveen slaughtered cows with a punishing hand and kept the wind at bay.

This produces wonderful anecdotes about great surprise at, and punishment for, Wil for the mortal sin of reading a book; the inability to deal with sonlief's orientation ('that thingy of yours') and, finally, the scenes surrounding his mother's protracted deathbed at home.

Rodenrijs

That's how I ended up there one Saturday night at a private performance 'A Soiree with Annie M.G.' for volunteers from local theatre company Art Sound in theatre The Muse in Noordwijk. And enjoyed, from the first to the last minute, Wil van der Meer and his pianist Hilmar Leujes.

And afterwards got into a conversation with Wil about Annie and her neighbour and taxi driver, one Piet van Leeuwen in Rodenrijs, who also belonged to her circle in France. Because I know them both so well, having been born in Rodenrijs, then a village on the water above Zestienhoven airport, where Annie reluctantly occupied her villa but preferred to stay in Amsterdam and France.

And where, as a student, I used to ring Pete and Annie's doorbell every week with a big basket of flowers. The taxi driver made the best mockery of me, Annie was the best customer; good for 5 bunches of pink Sonia roses which she addressed with her everlasting cigarette in one hand and the other searching for the required guilders in the purse.

Thus we exchanged memories of our village lives and of Annie. Until Wil was called, had to go get his things from stage and load them in; the hard life of an artist who is now in small venues interacting with audiences. "Performing in front of 42 people in Theatre Mascini on the Zeedijk can be more beautiful than in a full Carré."

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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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