Triptych of emotion

Barrera

Quintijn Relouw and Alësha Ovsiannikov in Barrera.

Sorrow, amusement, annoyance.

Those were the predominant emotions stirred up by the three plays I saw yesterday, in that order.

I was a two-wheeled traffic hazard after having seen Hallo, met je vader at the Sajetplein theatre, dangerously oblivious to cyclists, trams, pedestrians and taxis, lost in personal reverie.

Actors Sanya Schreuder and Frederique Hofman elucidate the relationship between a daughter and her divorced and largely absent father. Although it is an unfortunately very common situation, I realised while watching them that it was the first time I had ever seen it explored on stage. Perhaps theatremakers should ocassionally pay some attention to what is right in front of them – and illustrate it with skill and aplomb – than always searching for new or untold relationships and modes of telling simply for the sake of seeing to be breaking new ground.

Amidst the plethora of avante garde theatremaking that characterises the Fringe, is this traditional two-hander with what appeared to be a solid script (it was in Dutch so I can’t be sure) by Sanya and acting directed by Marit Meijeren and Ellik Bargai that was certainly good enough to easily hurdle the language barrier and deliver a message which hit hard.

It think even if I understood no Dutch at all, the inflection, tone and body language would have communicated enough for me to fill in the gaps with a text of my own.

I realise it affected me so much because it is a situation I am familiar with: separated father to a daughter. Fortunately I am not an absent dad, as Frederique’s character is, and if ever I needed reminding of the importance of putting effort into nurturing the parent-child relationship, to the benefit of both parties, this play would certainly have issued it.

Whether it would have the same power for someone to whom such a relationship is totally unfamiliar, I cannot surmise, but I suspect the warmth and feeling imbued in the performance goes beyond the strict limits of a father-daughter relationship and expands to a wider human experience of familial love, expectation, disappointment and forgiveness.

That took care of the sorrow.

It was clowns who provided the amusement.

Clowns.

They are so maligned. Everyone hates them. It is so predictable, it’s like not growing a beard, even though you’d really like to try, because you’re afraid someone will call you a hipster. It’s too de rigueur.

With the exception of Ronald McDonald, I have no problem with clowns. Additionally, as I descended into the rough basement venue alongside the Kloveniersburgwal, I realised I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clown performance outside a children’s birthday party. I mean clowns as clowns, not some Italian-school variation of clowning. Actual red noses, brightly coloured baggy pants, striped socks, ridiculously undersized hats, big painted lips, the whole deal. The only accessory Quintijn Relouw and Alësha Ovsiannikov did not have were the oversized shoes, opting for Converse hi-tops instead.

Like Hallo, met je vader, Barrera stuck to the basics. This Laurel and Hardy pair were sad clowns, drunken clowns. Mixing slapstick and woe interjected with filmed recordings in the vein of pre-digital home movies, the pair mourn the sudden death of their best friend, who happens to be a balloon.

The surface humour is obvious and apparent but on a deeper level, it raises the question of the weight we give to someone else’s loss. We willingly sympathise with someone whose close family member has died, but would likely mock an adult who is distraught over the loss of something we consider important. Like a pet spider, or something. Their sorrow may seem laughably lacking in perspective but who are we to dictate the depth of another person’s feelings and to what their feelings should be attached to?

Whatever your opinion on clowns, Quintijn and Alësha had an ability to reach through the farcical facepaint and whacky wigs and, ridiculous as it sounds, got me to sympathise with their loss, however ludicrous, which is exactly what they had me amused at: myself.

Luck, just two canals across, wiped the smile off my face.

Directed by Øystein Johanstein, who was responsible for the superbly disturbing Dahmer Syndrome which I wrote about on the World Fringe Alliance tumblr last year, has produced the most closed in, self serving piece of performance art/dance/wankfest that I’ve seen in quite some time.

An Amsterdam-based German dramaturge with whom I had struck up a conversation outside the theatre before the performance, was incensed. “It’s just about counting,” she fumed, “nothing else.”

Being seated in a circle at least offered the opportunity to find some relief from boredom by looking at the rest of the audience who, for the most part, apeared equally bored. Perhaps that was the point. Gosh.

Johansen may just have become too clever, or is trying very hard to be clever. Whatever the case, the only door this work opened led into a small featureless room offering nothing but the desire to exit. Unless you suffer from OCD and had a great time counting the steps the performers took across and around the circle, and how many times they met in the middle, in which case, you could count yourself lucky.

–Steve Kretzmann

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