Focus Dood Paard (Eng.)

Kaaitheater bulletin Mar 2003English

item doc

All at once he is wood.

The warm belly is cold.

And so the world gets old.

His legs are too short.

Oats have been spilt

out of the jaws, which until recently

could grind your fingers to pulp.

His yellow teeth snort

against those who pressed him

towards death.

Eyes like eggshells.

The knacker is coming to fetch him.

(Gerrit Achterberg)



In 1993, Manja Topper, Kuno Bakker and Oscar van Woensel graduated together from drama school in Arnhem (Holland). They decided to stay together and to form a group, a triumvirate. Was it by chance that, when choosing a name for their collective, they were inspired by the above poem by Gerrit Achterberg (Dood Paard means Dead Horse.)? There is no such thing as chance. The last line of the poem is: 'the knacker is coming to fetch him'. Sometimes when watching a Dood Paard performance - whether it be one of Oscar van Woensel's plays or their adaptations of Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Wilde, Albee, etc. - you get the impression that everything is happening 'just before the knacker comes to fetch them'. For Dood Paard, performing often means giving shape to the moment before a violent death. This 'long moment before death' coincides with life and even when the death of the characters themselves is still along way off, the inevitability of dying is always a tangible presence; death is always on its way. In Wie... (1996), while the five brothers and sisters sit downstairs talking, the dead parents are laid out upstairs in the bedroom.


Independent dramatists

In 1995 Gillis Biesheuvei joined the company and Sara De Roo of Tg Stan also regularly performs in their productions. In ten years, Dood Paard has produced about 3D plays and since January 2001 they have received an operating subsidy. The company has a strong work ethic, and great cohesion. They work without a director and in addition to the permanent core of actors the same people are always coming back for guest performances. Manja Topper: 'The people we work with have to be creators too.' In opting for independent actors who are willing to take on the entire responsibility for a production together, Dood Paard shows that it is the heir to the emancipating artistic positions taken by Maatschappij Discordia. Dood Paard had this desire for artistic independence from the very beginning, and in fact it was the bond that has always united its members. It was therefore no coincidence that their very first production was called A world of their own. These young actors wanted and still want to make statements about the world, to express their rage regarding the way things go in life, and to find a form for their powerlessness. Dood Paard is one of the generation of play-makers who entered the profession after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but who cannot share the euphoria regarding the globalisation forced upon us by the Western world. The plays they perform are witty, often razor-sharp but never cheerful; they are only exuberant in their destruction. For this reason Dood Paard is often accused of cynicism, the cynicism which is most expressed in the choice of the plays they adapt or write. In fact they have never made theatre on the basis of apolitical statement or explicitly made a stand against the established order.



When it comes to Shakespeare, they have until now chosen plays in which cruelty, the lust for power, and war set the tone (Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar) and in which they, as artists in the 'age of visual culture', were confronted with the problems of depicting violent scenes on stage. Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Rijnders' Silicone are also far from cheerful plays. However, the tone and colour of the world of Dood Paard are largely determined by the plays Oscar van Woensel has written as the company's in-house playwright. His world, as a writer, more or less coincides with the artistic world of the group. He started writing with three 'family plays' - Drie Familietragedies, Wie... and Tussen ons gezegd en gezwegen, written in 1994, 1996 and 1997 respectively, which portray families with successful parents who in most cases have already died and children who are failures, who meet each other, talk a lot together and thereby hope - with the help of a great deal of drink - to deal with the traumas and find answers to their existential questions; but neither the traumas nor the questions are resolved. There is much fear and much emotional alienation amongst these young adults. They dare not raise the question of their own identity 'Wie... in fact stands for 'Wie ben ik?' [who am I?]).
The alcohol provides intoxication and oblivion, but the consciousness, the lucidity regarding their own experience and the outside world is never entirely suppressed. What is more, the intoxication is not a joyful one, does not lead to their losing themselves for a moment, or to relief, but rather, as Kurt Vanhoutte defined it, to 'the delirium that leaves behind it a positive and above all energetic feeling'. These young adults dare to plunge to the bottom of the well, but in the end their vitality wins out over their cynicism. In Van Woensel's world, fathers and mothers are absent, departed or dead; there is no older generation that exerts authority or is able to give positive leadership or help. These young adults have to cope themselves. In Illias, Van Woensel's recent adaptation of Homer's epic, the world of people is regarded from the point of view of the gods; for the first time an 'authoritative older generation' makes its appearance, but unfortunately it turns out to behave just as foolishly and act just as illogically as the immortals down on earth, or as the younger characters in the other plays.



What Dood Paard's characters all have in common, is that they talk to each other and even listen to each other; they often affect each other in these conversations, but they make every effort notto show It. Dood Paard's plays are essentially dialogues by nature and not monologues, as is the case in many contemporary plays, The choice of plays by Albee, Wilde, Rijnders, De Graaf, Van Woensel himself and of course Shakespeare was therefore clearly not only a question of the theme dealt with, but also the way this theme is rendered. Even when Van Woensel wants to convey such epic material as the Trojan war, he still opts for a company of people chatting round a table. This choice is probably partly determined by the fact that Dood Paard is in the first place a company of actors, one of whom has developed as a writer. In the structure of a monologue, the writer can above all express his own thoughts, and can arrange and direct them and at the same time give his imagination free rein. Anyone who wants to convey his meaning via conversations and characters will sooner or later be faced with the fact that these characters will start to lead a life of their own and escape the clutches of the author.



Over the years they have been at work, the members of Dood Paard have discovered that man is not rational in the things he does. Oscar van Woensel says, 'We do not think that man is very logical in his behaviour, so why would one try to deny it on stage? We look for a-logic. That makes characters fickle, dangerous and unpredictable.' Dood Paard shows people without moral codes, people for whom the abnormal has actually become 'normal', This sort of view of human activity naturally has repercussions for the manner of acting too. Dood Paard's acting is often described as cool and dry; emotions are kept at a distance. They themselves define their stage work as 'acting by quotation'. 'You set something off, let go of it and hope that the spectator will think, fantasise and fill in the gaps.' The 'normal' relationship between actor and character is here reversed. The actor does not try to step into the character's shoes, but: 'We look for sides, ways in and possibilities that make sure the character becomes the actor.’



Dood Paard attaches a great deal of importance to the repertoire; not only in the sense of working with the historical storehouse of plays, but also in the sense of 'playing the repertory', meaning reviving and restaging plays they have performed before and adapting them to the present. They also share this love and respect for the repertoire with Maatschappij Discordia. Yet as an actor's collective they are not paralysed by this deference: they adapt and distort the plays, bringing them into line with themselves and their times. Language is ameans both for acting and for communication; but It also has an additional function. In such performances as Medea and Blaat the mediatisation and decline of language reflects the mediatisation and decline of society. It may be that the Dood Paard synthesis can be read in their use of language: a vital actor's theatre and writer's theatre and political theatre. In one of his columns, Oscar van Woensel wrote, 'I have never supposed to that as a dramatist one does not have to be involved in politics. On the contrary. I see it as an important part of the work. I also see the work as a possibility for expressing idealism. And, I think that to be idealistic you have to define your position with regard to reality.'


(Translation Gregory Ball)