Hiske Eriks longs for Victorian times.
Nostalgia for a past we never had is a common experience, closely linked to a belief that life used to be simpler and time more abundant.
It’s a yearning common enough to have its own genre, the costume drama, typically hearkening back to the Victorian era when men were honourable and women were ladies, apparently.
Of course our imagination is generally stuck on the upper class manifestation of any particular era we wish to have experienced. I can’t imagine being working class or poor (which is statistically more likely) in Olde London’s gin-rag-soaked smog-choked streets was much fun. Never mind the lack of dental care.
Reality check aside, apparently the Germans have a word for this longing: Sehnsucht. According to extensive Wikepedia research, it relates to “thoughts and feelings about all facets of life that are unfinished or imperfect, paired for a yearning for ideal alternative experiences”. (I checked the citation).
It describes well what Hiske Eriks portrays in Was het leven maar een kostuumdrama (If only life was a costume drama) pretty accurately, with hilarious results.
With her dramatic entrance, replete in ridiculously badly constructed hoop skirt by Roos Smith, she acts out her fantasy of being the Victorian lady. Then deconstructs it, thereby inviting us in, making us a complicit mirror affirming that she is the fairest of them all.
That she is not at all sure she is fair becomes apparent as she leads us through the set structure and cliches inherent in a costume drama, seemingly based on that classic of the genre, Pride and Prejudice. She enacts the necessary scenes (man and woman at a ball, for instance) with the aid of amusing illustrations on the back of her mobile dress screens, which were discordantly modern. In fact the set, integral to the performance, was the one thing that did not work. Its modern sleek lines clashed with the costume and scenario, and would be so easy to change by spending a bit of time trawling second-hand shops and buying a few metres of floral material. A woman like this would not have things like that in her room.
And it is a room it seems she spends a lot of time in as, speaking directly to us, her loneliness becomes increasingly apparent with the realisation her love for costume drama is a result of her delusional desire for the sweeping romance the genre depicts.
She is just a woman desperate for love, as are we all. She’s just bit crazier than average.
Although much of the play was in Dutch, I understood enough to realise many of her off-the-cuff comments were hilarious references to modern expectations and experiences, which introduced contemporary vantage points that highlighted and ridiculed her own illusion.
In this work, Hiske had me alternately wanting to reach over and comfort her and run a mile from this plainly mad woman who would likely smother any man within waltzing distance with her need for emotional fulfillment. In other words, I was captured, particularly by the ending, which was simply brilliant.
Programme notes and booking for Was het leven maar een kostuumdrama here.
— Steve Kretzmann