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Nostalgia with Huub Stapel

At the end of the premiere at Haarlem's Stadsschouwburg theatre, actor Huub Stapel (68) fills up several times as he talks about his parents. Silence falls.

The performance Only Family is primarily a tribute to Stapel's parents from memories and reflections, as well as personal confessions. With the most prominent being his urinary problem due to a too-small bladder; many years of bed-wetting were the result and most recently playing a two-hour stage role in King Lear with a nappy on.

This 'King Diaper' excerpt is immediately followed by a carnival cracker to make fun of his medical malady. This one Stapel calls 'no trauma', against his better judgment. Already during the first school camp, Huubke was on display in front of his classmates. So there is (thankfully) also a break during Huub's solo performances - this is already the fourth.

From NSB to resistance

Stapel characterises his childhood as a constant intense experience of deep love and agonising lack of money. His 20,000-guilder fee for his first film De Lift (1983) was more than his father and mother earned all their lives from the sweet shop and trade. And also: living in a candy factory with only treatment by a blunt school dentist, money for the village dentist was lacking.

That village was Tegelen, in the smoke of Venlo, where the Stapel family of six children enjoyed a sheltered life with certainties that have been lost, Stapel insists in anecdotes, songs and skits.

Although Stapel begins with a series of negative clichés about family, his performance is mostly a warm memory. However, most of his family, siblings, children, grandchild, nieces and nephews, remain out of the picture. The parents dominate, especially the father because of his brief membership of the NSB during the beginning of World War II.

Stapel does not know what really moved his father in that choice, it was never discussed, but it was probably the infatuation with the daughter of an NSB leader. Evil intentions cannot have been Stapel sr. according to Huub. He later joined 'the resistance' (what exactly remains unclear) and as a dad was an exceptionally righteous guy, for Huub a 'hero'. For instance, he once gave the son a huge sum of money for the fair and wanted to attack the parish priest ('the dean') when he slapped Huub for turning up late as an altar boy.

Good people

Unmistakably Catholic were the family, life and surroundings in Tegelen, though in the mildest form. Huub said goodbye to it after that blow and says he never found God again, in any capacity. He does compare his mother ("my saint") to Mary, also one of his first names as of the many millions of southerners born into the numerous families.

Unanimously, his parents were for justice and Huub - though not devoid of material enjoyment - considers himself to be in that tradition. This brings him to a sudden tirade against the government and - of course - Prime Minister Rutte at the end.

These are not the strongest fragments, as Stapel acts superbly, sings creditably, but is no cabaret artist. The question is therefore whether it was a good idea to have cabaret artist jan Beuving write the lyrics. Opinions may differ on that, the reviewer of the Volkskrant mentions it "a strong text".

There is a nice thread in the story, that judgements of right and wrong require caution, because chance and unexpected human reactions determine your fate. That fate strikes Aunt Truus in a negative sense. First she loses her husband in a business accident, then she has to take in German officers for a living and is therefore shaved bald on the Tegelen market square after the war.

Meandering

The meandering along good and evil are, for me, the strength of this performance, and could have been put on sharper and in better context with some less one-sided praise of parents. For instance, Stapel comes on in a long officer's coat to put war into perspective. "Is there even a good side and an evil side?", he asks rhetorically, invoking the cannon fodder of boys forced to fight on both sides. (Whether that is not topical.)

Apart from the music by guitarist Cor Mutsers and bass guitarist David Stapel (cousin), the scenery with pencil drawings by Rieks Swarte is beautiful. The elderly will enjoy this performance to the full, especially with recognition from a Catholic past.

 Family only By Senf, seen in Stadsschouwburg Haarlem, until 27 May 2023 throughout the country 

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Peter Olsthoorn

Freelance journalist, does interviews and science for Intermediair; writes and speaks on topics including digitisation, data analytics, fraud and media for dailies/congresses; reviews theatre; and is daily grateful.View Author posts

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