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'I say sorry' is now a book. Go read it, together. 

"Listening, not always understanding, but trying to go along with (the black) voices ensured that, in my opinion, there was a beautiful text at the heart of the performance Ik zeg toch sorry." If a short preface to a play has as much meaning as this quote by Raymi Sambo, the text itself must offer much more. And that is what 'Ik zeg toch sorry' does, written by white writer Erik Snel, founder of the Utrecht-based company Aluin.

The text was written for a play in which Raymi Sambo's crew collaborated with Alum, in a team of three black and three white actors. The play premiered at Oerol in 2022. I saw the kick-off of the tour along the circuit of smaller theatres in September that year and was, so to speak, 'blown away'. The piece once again highlighted the importance of listening before coming up with an opinion.

Black page

Too often I have heard people say that the history of slavery is something from long ago, a black page we have left behind us. Besides, how guilty should a random resident of Utrecht feel for something from 200 years ago in a faraway country? The call for the Netherlands to apologise for the harm done, a key point made by Sylvana Simons and Bij1 during their too-short presence in the Lower House, is not felt by everyone, shall we say. 

Writer Erik Snel wrote this play with that idea in mind. He has managed to make that discomfort palpable, discussable and ridiculous at the same time in a brilliant way. 

Passing on shame

In the preface to the text edition, now available from publisher It&fb, Raymi Sambo explains it better than I could: "Making a performance on this subject is extremely complex. You find out that black and white speak the same language, but do not feel the same. Erik Snel writes about this: 'Is pain passed on by genes, but shame not?' How does pain still play a role in the lives of black actors and how do white actors deal with shame in response to it? And how to deal with this in the making process?"

The hundred performances the ensemble has now put on have impressed, if I count optimistically, twenty thousand people. Quite a lot, but a drop in the ocean, especially after 22 November, when a quarter of the country voted for a party that prominently features the withdrawal of apologies for the slavery past. 

Soldier of Orange

Why is the Dutch subsidy system not set up in such a way that a play like 'Ik zeg toch sorry' can be played on for as long as 'Soldaat van Oranje'? It's not that expensive, and just as busloads leave for that converted hangar every night, shouldn't there be a theatre where this intimate piece can do its healing work for years to come?

Or should we hope for a legend status, rewarded in 30 years with a film adaptation? Like Leedvermaak, a play by Judith Herzberg decisive for our dealing with the legacy of the Holocaust, which was performed only 30 times at Frascati in 1982, but nevertheless changed many lives?

So the text is now available. Publishing drama texts is not the most profitable option of the publishing profession, and I am putting it very mildly. In a country where reading skills have sunk to pathetic levels, especially a drama text is difficult to read on your own. 

Long live the reading club

We must hope for the circuit of enthusiast theatre, and for reading clubs, as there appear to be quite a few. Last week, I read the text with a reading club of my own. The six roles were divided, we read aloud to each other and were deeply impressed. Acting talent is not even required for this, as the text appears strong enough to fall into place even without the specific context of professional theatre practitioners. 

Just try it out with friends, instead of playing klaverjassen or after gourmets on Christmas Eve. With the looming cut in, or even discontinuation of, arts subsidies, which will particularly affect small companies like Alum and Raymi Sambo Makes, there may be a semi-clandestine future in the living rooms of fans. The text deserves it, and the Netherlands needs it. 

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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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