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Dying drummer says it all in Tiago Rodrigues' Dans la Mesure de l'Impossible at the Holland Festival

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Live music in the theatre, I long for it more and more. Performances in which actors are accompanied by a soundtrack, amplified with or without transmitter microphones, always only half captivate. You soon find yourself watching a kind of live performed film. But without the comfort of a cinema and the technical capabilities of the camera.... 

On Sunday 9 June at ITA, the capital's former City Theatre, there was a live drummer on stage and the voices of the four actors on stage sounded remarkably natural. It was an essential added value to the performance 'Dans la Mesure de l'Impossible', which in everything resembled a probing television documentary. That way it remained theatre and came close. It also provided every opportunity to wonder all sorts of things about the usefulness and necessity of such works of art.

Doctors without borders

Tiago Rodrigues is a fascinating theatre maker. Topicality and honesty are of paramount importance to him. For instance, he even managed a star-studded Chekhov urgency, even if his leading lady isabelle Huppert forced him to leave the Russian writer literally intact. 

With Dans la Mesure de l'Impossible, Rodrigues undertakes an attempt to let the gruesome reality of war and destruction get to us. In 2022, even before the Russians began their devastation of Ukraine, and long before we no longer had to click far to be overwhelmed while doom-scrolling by the human disaster in Gaza, Rodrigues and his actors interviewed some 30 Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières aid workers. 

Light and playful

The four actors collected the anonymised interviews and stripped them of direct references to places like Rwanda or Aleppo. Against a backdrop of tent cloth, which at first looks like a mountain landscape, but during the performance changes into a large tent by manipulating pulleys, we get to hear the condensed stories. 

It starts off light and playful, as people who experience horrors in their day-to-day lives more often do when they walk around in the ordinary world. About how much sex and drinking goes around in those organisations, for example.

The other world, Rodrigues calls 'The Impossible'. That is the world where you go as an idealistic young person to do good, help and save. That is the world where you have one bag of blood and have to choose which of three children you are going to let live. It is also a world where warring factions grant you five minutes of silence to save a 12-year-old boy.

Two worlds

The aid workers, whose stories the actors convey, live in two worlds. In the 'impossible' world they rescue and rescue on the same adrenaline that keeps the warring parties fighting, in the 'possible' world at home they discover how impossible it is to share any of your experiences. As soon as the going gets tough, your interlocutors turn away and it's all about the new bathroom.

If there is a message at all, it is a message of utter futility. Saving people in war zones, one of the actors tells us, is what you do against your better judgment. What remains is an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.

And that helplessness is visible in that drummer, who for two hours provided a heartbeat of bombs exploding in the distance, and is left alone at the end. His drums still make the sound of war, his playing is one big attempt to stop that madness. In that impossibility, he eventually loses out, exhausted.

Afterwards, we clap. In the foyer, the conversation turns to the latest perils surrounding the arts grant. 

Dans la mesure de l'Impossible by Tiago Rodrigues. Seen on 9 June at ITA as part of the Holland Festival 2024. Still there through 11 June. Information and tickets.

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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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