“Samenleven met jou… maakt me minder eenzaam. Het is de enige mogelijkheid te vergeten dat we langzaam afsterven”
Honestly, just look at the photos below, there are just no words to describe how stunning the creative vision of Ivo van Hove, Jan Versweyweld and the rest of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam crew is (co-producing here with Toneelhuis and the Ruhrtriënnale). At a point where I was a little worried that there might be a little van Hove overkill going on (London theatregoers currently have the choice of Hedda Gabler and/or Lazarus), De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan (The Things That Pass) served as the perfect reminder that only a fool would take him for granted in the stunning way that he brings theatre to life.
De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan is an adaptation of a Louis Couperus novel, a Dutch writer from the turn of the last century whose work appears to be undergoing a Rattigan-like re-invigoration as its extraordinary psychological acuity is being rescued from the previously dusty image it has been saddled with. An epic family story, it probes into the legacy of Dutch colonial times and the way in which unresolved bad deeds can infect generation after generation to pernicious effect, depicting the atomisation of the nuclear family long before it became the norm that it is today, something reflected in the austere timeless beauty of Versweyveld’s design.
But though it may feel timeless, an integral aspect of the production is that time does indeed pass, Harry de Wit’s score is full of ever-ticking clocks and chimes, marking both the present and reminding of a terrible act from the past committed by Ottilie and her lover Emile Takma. The play traces the legacy of that darkness on subsequent generations, particularly newly-married Lot and Elly for whom the rot sets in even at the honeymoon. The way that rot is represented, through the inexorable pull of a ghostly procession of the family members, all of whom sit on chairs watching the action throughout, is subtly horrific, suggesting how nigh-on impossible it can be to shake off the past.
Truth be told, I wasn’t always 100% sure who some of the subsidiary characters were, a company of 16 makes for a large extended family and in letting my eyes soak up the sumptuousness of the visuals, I was missing chunks of the captions that might have helped though I still reckon we could have lost some of them with no great impact. And a side-effect of the sheer artfulness of van Hove’s interpretation here was that it was perhaps overly chilly, there weren’t too many members of this family you were rooting for, their humanity sacrificed for the ambience of the production as a whole. (Though my lack of familiarity with the source material will undoubtedly have played a part in this too.)
But what a production it was – so many images seared into my mind that I can’t imagine ever forgetting them, the black snow, the swirling mist, the mass of bodies pressing in without any eye contact to alleviate the pain. And other senses engaged too – Nina Simone popping up on the stereo, the smell of strawberries permeating the air, that ticking clock…one of the most striking pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. And that’s without raving about the performances too (Abke Haring, Katelijne Damen, Hans Kesting and Hugo Koolschijn taking the honours for me).