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Remains the question after #Summerguests s23a3: What was that snippet killed from The Singing Detective?

Fascinating television, for sure. Cabaret artist Theo Maassen, who is emerging as an excellent interviewer in this Summer Guest year, went 'full Paxman' on Khadija Arib. Following in the footsteps of famous BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, he pulled out all the stops to elicit a confession from the former Lower House Speaker. It didn't work, and at half past 12, after a very exciting hour of interview television, the score was 0-0. No penalties followed, but a wonderful film did. A very important question also lingered: why exactly was The Singing Detective singled out?

Zomergasten is now a household name. The format has become almost compelling. A guest prepares a dozen television fragments with which to tell a story. It is up to the presenter to guide that story, and - if it gets too slippery - to tip it over, to 'break' the guest and make the viewer feel that they have really learned something new. Because of the long duration of the programme, this format is not as thick as in College Tour, where the breaking point is invariably introduced about ten minutes before the end (Sigrid Kaag's children being the last example).

The body language spoke volumes

Even at the beginning of the three-hour Summer Guests with Khadija Arib, it was clear that it was going to be an interesting evening. Arib opened with beautiful, emotionally charged excerpts, from Hello Goodbye, among others. Theo Maassen followed sympathetically, but turned more in his chair and interrupted the argument more often than he did with his earlier - male - guests. This could be interpreted as typical male behaviour. It was, but behind it was the fact that this evening should not be about Arib's life story, but about The Question: what was going on in the presidium of the Chamber that caused a cesspool to be opened after her departure?

That Question lingered in the air for an agonisingly long time. All the while, Arib sat on a chair visibly raised with cushions so as not to look too small against Maassen's 2 metres. This was portrayed more clearly than usual, although the 'overshoulder' shots of Maassen opposite Arib were shorter than in the first two episodes, so as not to let the image of an imposing man opposite an obviously smaller woman dominate. (In my previous consideration I'll explain what that's like with telephoto lenses). Meanwhile, they bombarded each other with charm. Something they both proved equally good at. That kept the conversation insightful and warm.

Not walking away was an achievement

At 10:30 it was time for The Question. Maassen immediately went on the attack, making it clear that he would not settle for Arib's defence. She in turn remained in the fold and nice, insisting that the complaints against her were anonymous and that after a year she still did not know what she was accused of. That it did not degenerate into a vulgar argument, and Arib did not run away, is due to both of them being polite, but at home we were on the edge of our seats.

A fragment fell. This happens more often, but it is usually discussed. This time, the director had already decided that the planned excerpt from The Singing Detective would be skipped. This is remarkable, and this was also the only moment when Khadija Arib was visibly upset. It is also strange, because usually, instead of skipping a fragment between the others, one rolls up from the end.

When was that decision made?

Arib was upset because she had wanted to make her point with a meaningful excerpt from The Singing Detective, as she herself repeated twice. She was denied that opportunity. The question now is why - and actually when - the editors had taken that decision. Without falling into conspiracy thinking, it seems that the choice had been made much earlier. After all, Maassen works without an 'earpiece', so gets no interim directorial cues.

It would be nice if VPRO would still make the excerpt in question 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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