A crucial production
Is it mere coincidence that so many classical tragedies build on the ashes of Troy? Even worse than war is the aftermath of war. War lingers on in the desire for revenge: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Only man can break that spiral, maintains STAN in neoptolemos .
The desire for retaliation is central, but in neoptolemos (from Koos Terpstra's rewriting of Euripides' Andromache ) it is down to people rather than gods.
The story of the mother of all wars, the oldest soap, is well enough known. After Paris has abducted the beautiful Helen, the Greeks lead an expedition to Troy and besiege the city in a bid to bring Helen back. There is a great deal at stake. Why else would commander-in-chief Agamemnon sacrifice his own daughter Iphigenia? Only ten years later will her death in Troy yield a victory for the Greeks, with even more deaths, including Achilles on the battlefield and the Trojan hero Hector. In enemy hands only women survive, as booty for the victors. Hector's sister Cassandra sets sail with Agamemnon as his concubine and his wife Andromache is given to Achilles' son Neoptolemos. There is nothing new under the sun of the patriarchate.
What is fascinating about the Greek tragedies is how readily the women take up arms. In neoptolemos , the second part of Koos Terpstra's three-part rewriting of Euripides' Andromache , the denouement revolves around a dead child. Andromache's young son Astyanax was thrown from the walls of Troy. She is now looking for the murderer, who turns out to be none other than Neoptolemos. Terpstra has turned that theme into a psychological gem. Frank Vercruyssen and Minke Kruyver, his former student at Studio Herman Teirlinck, need only inject sobriety into their dialogues. In the STAN rehearsal space the play automatically becomes a complex clash between the vulnerability of a ruler and the quiet strength of mind of his proud slave, until those positions of power are again overturned when she is set free. She chooses to stays.
The upshot of neoptolemos is that plea to see humanism as the only solution to irreconcilable differences which incite revenge. The Greek man asks the Trojan woman for reconciliation. "Right leads to my death or your death and I am pretty fed up with that solution." "We have to do it ourselves", says Neoptolemos. "Or are you waiting for a god to step in and tell you if you are a good or a bad person?" Seated at small tables spread out over the stage, the members of the audience are personally instigated and come away from the play in silence.
Here neoptolemos is more about human conflicts - i.e. situations something can be done about - than it is about Iraq or Lebanon. The last thing the play does is deny the complexity of those conflicts. But the very last thing it does is admit total defeat. It glimmers with hope. It is the sort of theatre there is all too little of: theatre that shares a script rich in discussion material with the man in the street by presenting it clearly through image and acting. Expect no frills but highly relevant content about a nearby and distant world which we laxly allow to take its course.
De Morgen, Wouter Hillaert, December 20th 2006