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'The Stone in my Mouth' offers perfect combo of talents in staggering war story

Riet, Peer Wittenbols' mother, has been dead for a few years. She took a lot of stories with her in her grave from the time she was called Marietje. Playwright Peer Wittenbols sought out those stories, actress Juul Vrijdag tells them. And so for an hour and a half I witnessed a small miracle, because Marietje was alive again. And so did Riet. It happened on Liberation Day in Vught. 

National Memorial Camp Vught is a perfect place to feel the Netherlands' fraught past and present. The memorial centre on the 19th-century defences where a concentration camp was located during World War II is right next to our most famous prison, the EBI where people like Ridouan Taghi and Mohamed B are serving their sentences. The beautiful nature, where the execution site from the war rather cruelly disrupts the idyll, can be seen behind barbed wire and watchtowers, on the way to the barracks where Theatre Group Matzer plays the performance 'The Stone in my Mouth', directed by Madeleine Matzer.

Dream team

Juul Vrijdag together with Peer Wittenbols: it is a dream team that I have been following since the mid-1990s, when, under names like The Cross of Burgundy and The Federation, together with director Rob Ligthert and equally striking actresses like Monic Hendrickx, they brought a new language to theatre. That language sounds like a Naive painting, in which objects are given feelings and people reduce monumental emotions to simple words. That language thrives in the hands of Juul Vrijdag: she has a casual cheerfulness in her acting that makes her ageless. 

The story of the war years, when Riet was still Marietje and ten years old, begins with the invasion by the Germans, who, in the words of Wittenbols' mother, 'came walking all the way from Berlin to the Woenselsestraat'. In a delightful Eindhoven dialect, we are told the history in fits and starts, how brother Jan became a hero and sister An survived Ravensbrück concentration camp like a living skeleton. Wittenbols' grandfather Simon disappeared through Camp Vught into the night and haze of the German extermination machinery.

In passing

As heavy as the story is, the performance has a casualness that prevents it from becoming a tearjerker. This is not only due to the perfectly matched team Juul&Peer, but also to the credit of director Madeleine Matzer who does full justice to the location, among the three-high bunk beds in a reconstructed concentration camp barracks. Sanne Danz's unintimidating design contributes to this, and musician Charlie Bo Meijering fiddles pleasantly in his corner on stage, with keyboard disguised as an old piano, from which he occasionally gets up to grab an autoharp or synthesiser.

It makes the show unpretentious, and that is the best way to make you realise that war is never 'those vief jaarkes' but continues for generations. Heroism is always relative and guilt suffocating.

The performances in Kamp Vught are all sold out, but the tour also takes the company to other fraught places like Kamp Amersfoort. Information.

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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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