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Reinout Bussemaker is the dream JP in Aluin's 'This is ours'

You must be a white man of a certain age. Some of us are so fed up with being blamed for everything that, out of sheer desperation, we voted PVV or worse in the last elections. That is why it is good that playwright Erik Snel, himself a white man of a certain age, has written a play about the archetype of the Dutch white man of a certain age. That play, titled 'This is ours', is about the man through whose tunnels many of us crawl every day, or in whose street we walk the dog: Jan Pietersz Coen. 

Reinout Bussemaker, one of my favourite actors and also a white man of a certain age, is the dreamed-up portrayal of the authority figure who, in the early seventeenth century, secured the trade in extremely expensive nutmeg by persuading the entire population of Bantam, where the nuts grew, not to deal with the British competitor through genocide. 

Off its pedestal

There is a statue of 'sea hero' J.P. Coen in Hoorn, a North Holland town that owes all its historical - and now tourist - wealth to him, and recently refused to apologise for its slavery past in the East and West. The central question in the play Erik Snel wrote for Theatre Group Aluin is whether it is not now time to pull Coen off his pedestal. 

Three young actors circle around Bussemaker's Coen, with Susannah El Mecky playing the most important role. She is activist Just who retrieves the mass murderer-with-statue from 1620 to confront him with his legacy in today's Netherlands. The way she does so is one of the funnier finds in this play of just under seven quarters of an hour, which seeks a balance between anger at the past and powerlessness in the now, while also having to remain light enough not to turn off a modern and predominantly white audience. 

Genocidal present

As a writer, Erik Snel manages to touch on almost everything to do with our current handling of the fraught past. He also manages to give a place to doubt. How guilty should we feel today about something that happened 400 years ago? 

This tendency to trivialise the past, with reference to our current state of civilisation, is then undermined by Alum's clear link to genocidal wars in the present. After all, we still tend to see people, with whom we have an apple to peel, not as human beings, but as amorphous monsters or beasts, or natural disasters. 

Indonesia Calls

Within all this, naval hero Coen has a remarkable role. We get to know him as a pragmatist and dutiful civil servant, who implemented standing Dutch policy and was therefore not a cross-border loner. In doing so, the performance links seamlessly to Hans Goedkoop's impressive series "Indonesia Calls!", which aired last September. In it, the television producer discovers more and more about the work of his grandfather, who was a senior officer in the Royal Dutch East Indies Army during the police actions in the middle of the last century. 

Right now, our Lower House is led by a party that wants to withdraw the apology that the Dutch state has now offered. In doing so, they are also playing on the fear, especially among white Dutch people of a certain age, that 'we' are going down to self-hatred and will have to surrender our prosperity through reparations that should by now run into hundreds of billions.

However justified those reparations would be, especially since we ourselves did demand - and receive - such payments in those years from the newly independent Indonesia, Alum leaves that answer to us, the public. 

Killer pace

That is, if we still have air for that, after the show. Director Victorine Plante sets the performance with the fresh energy that characterises her work at Alum, and that keeps you superbly on your toes. From the start, however, the murderous pace also produces mounting anger among the young actors. That anger is entirely imaginable, and at the end it rightly hits rock bottom, but a little more dosage would make that ending land just a little better. 

We will never be able to repair the damage our past behaviour has caused. It is something we have to live with. It is up to us to ensure that no one ever makes the same mistakes again. 

Quite a job.

Seen: 'This is ours' by Theatre Group Alum. Premiere 23 December 2023 at Theatre Kikker, Utrecht. Tour.

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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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