STAN's war of words

Frank Vercruyssen and Tine Embrechts tear each other apart in tg STAN's new production.

The new STAN begins on familiar ground. Two actors on a stage looking around and exchanging meaningless comments which suggest unspoken emotions - much theatre derives from this description. The power of blijf /weg ( stay / away ) is that it delves courageously beneath the surface of the language.

But wait, I am getting ahead of myself. Who is standing on the stage and why?

Frank Vercruyssen and Tine Embrechts are a couple looking for a new home. The stage of the Monty is the umpteenth house they've been to. And it would be the umpteenth 'possibly', except that Vercruyssen's character starts to prod. He suspects that his girlfriend is not saying what she really thinks of the house. She makes a point of always agreeing with him. A "yes" is in fact a "no" and vice versa. Instead of communicating, words mask emotions. In the end they take the house.

Then there is a pause while Embrechts and Vercruyssen drag a mattress onto the stage and make the bed immaculately with the sheets pulled so tight under the mattress, you could cut yourself on the folds in the bedlinen. And that is exactly what the spouses - for we have jumped forward seven years - have done. The wife wants a divorce, the husband doesn't. It's bad for the children. And this constant rowing, that's doing the children a power of good, of course, she shouts back. Fasten your seatbelts, the arguing begins.


You soon notice that little has changed as far as the language is concerned. The sentences are longer and more elaborate, but they are just as repetitious and meaningless. It is more important that reproaches are exchanged than that the other person really picks up on those reproaches. Embrechts' character, played with great verve and intonation, says "yes" to all reproaches and accusations, but it is still not a real "yes". It is a sarcastic "yes": an admission that there is no blame, a shield off which the other person's words rebound.

At first these arguments are amusing because Embrechts' acting is so rich and because everything can be explained by typical male-female differences: he works day and night to feed his family and in return expects gratitude; she is alone day and night and feels neglected. Spice all that up with inanities of the "Why are all the towels in the wash?" genre and what you have is comic, melodic bickering.

Gradually, however, it all goes too far and you start to think: so separate! Separate or kill each other, but make an end to it! The laughter deserts the auditorium. The gap between you and the characters widens, the attention shifts to the rhetoric of the quarrelling. It is there that blijf /weg becomes more than a (carnival) mirror. The play demonstrates that our words are missiles: often it is not the meaning that counts, but the force of the impact.

De Standaard, Mark Cloostermans, November 17th 2008