“Ik heb nog nooit zoiets merkwaardigs gezien als hoe die twee met elkaar omgaan”
Though considered one of the most important contemporary Belgian writers, Hugo Claus’s renown hasn’t stretched much outside of the Flemish-speaking world. So it is perhaps fitting that I saw Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s production of his Een Bruid in de Morgen (A Bride in the Morning) at the Toneelschuur theatre in Haarlem in its native language, without the English surtitles that are so usefully provided on Thursdays at their main base in the Dutch capital.
I was well up for the challenge though, not least because the show fell under the auspices of their emerging directors programme TA-2 – nurturing the Ivo van Hoves of the future – and through which I saw Julie Van den Burgh’s extraordinary reinterpretation of Blood Wedding back in 2013. This time round, it is Norwegian Maren E Bjørseth getting the opportunity to work with the ensemble company, taking the show around the Netherlands.
It was a fascinating experience, seeing a show I didn’t know in a language I don’t speak. I read a brief synopsis beforehand but left it at that, otherwise happy to submerge myself in Bjørseth’s theatrical world and let it wash over me. And it’s a mark of the quality of the work that so much was crystal-clear from the outset. The billowing fabric of Marjolijn Brouwer’s marquee-like design suggesting the uncertain state of the Pattini family’s foundations, Lotte Goos’ costumes amplifying character oddities, Bernie van Velzen’s inquisitive lighting proving the difficulty in keeping secrets.
There are big secrets too. Brother and sister Thomas and Andrea have retreated into an almost childlike state of being in their imagination, their emotions intricately entwined, almost dangerously so in their closeness whereas parents Fred and Madeleine are lost in their own reveries. More pragmatically minded, they espy the opportunity in the arrival of rich cousin Hilda to marry Thomas off to her but her presence does more than upset the carefully calibrated balance in the household, it throws it catastrophically off.
I’ve loved getting to know the TGA ensemble better and knowing Fred Goessens and Marieke Heebink was a big selling point, their broad humour hugely enjoyable to watch, deepening into real tragicomedy towards the end. Alwin Pulinckx and Jip Smith both offered huge emotional openness as the quasi-incestuous siblings in all their damaged innocence, and Camilla Siegertsz mined a rich vein of exaggerated physical comedy as Hilda, transforming her from comical grotesque to a figure of real power and ambition. A most enjoyable way to shift the theatrical experience into something new.