STAN, itching powder for the stage

The Antwerp collective STAN doesn't like theatre without any surprises. Of/niet is once again a little something to set tongues wagging.

If your friends don't like the theatre, take them to see STAN and they will surely change their mind. Because these guys don't do anything like other people. Including choosing a name: STAN has absolutely nothing to do with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, although their performances are jam-packed with humour. This collective, set up in Antwerp in 1989, is called STAN because it's an acronym for ‘Stop Thinking About Names’. An anecdote epitomizing the company, always prepared to chip away at tradition.

With about thirty performances under its belt STAN has made a name for itself in Flanders… and in Paris, while staying strangely unknown to the French-speaking Belgian audiences. More's the pity, because each of the troupe's performances is – literally – a lesson in theatre. This rowdy bunch continually seems to reinvent the rules of drama and to return to its essentials: the actors.

This time they have unearthed two repertory authors to light a fire under their works. On the empty stage of the Brussels Kaaitheater they mix up Harold Pinter's Party Time with Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking to concoct some kind of Molotov cocktail of laughter, performed in Dutch with French surtitles.

Peals of laughter all around

At first sight of/niet , an outlandish performance staged without even a semblance of a set, doesn't seem like much. But quite soon these actors' seemingly aloof manner, their ability to make us believe they're discovering the text along with us, and their unflagging cynicism produce the best possible result: peals of laughter all around.

Although the excerpts from Party Time seem a bit muddled, Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking is a blast of misunderstandings between lovers. The audience howls with laughter at the clever dialogue. And the actors' performances are the final straw: Damiaan De Schrijver, a bearded colossus, is a master of the double entendre. Frank Vercruyssen gives a brilliant performance as the anxious type. Sara De Roo's high spirits are infectious. And Jolente De Keersmaeker (Anne Teresa's sister) exhibits an awesome versatility.

These chaps don't stint themselves. When Sara forgets her lines, her partner Frank suggests she reads the surtitles! That would be an excellent idea… if they weren't in French. Does she get confused? No problem: Damiaan goes back, repeats his exit and offers us off the cuff an exercise in theatrical rewinding. STAN is a past master at manipulating fiction. It's irresistible. After this your friends won't be able to do without!

Le Soir, Laurent Ancion, June 10th, 2006