Boisterous miscellany of Bernhardian humour

The dressing-up is enough in itself! Each new section begins with the actors donning an elaborate new costume. They help each other in time to the music and then brazenly display yet another very fine outfit, before throwing themselves with total abandonment into the Thomas Bernhard sketches.

STAN, the Flemish actors’ group, has no qualms about making free with the Austrian writer’s script in a set in which all the props are immediately buried under a large tarpaulin. Similarly, the characters endeavour to bury their past and their misdemeanours. But every now and then a chair or table is retrieved from underneath the tarpaulin.

These include a folding table which the actor cannot for the life of him erect, and he ends up sticking his head through the top of it. This hilarious act would not be out of place in a Laurel and Hardy film. And there are others in Redde wie zich redden kan ( Save yourself if you can or Run for your lives ), a typical STAN production. The seriousness of the subject is treated with mild light-heartedness, but the way the actors laugh off their troubles in piercingly high tones, cuts to the quick.

Bernhard’s Dramoletten , on which Redde is based, is a series of short sketches. Finger exercises almost, with all the characteristics of his larger-scale plays. Long monologues, poetical repetitions, litanies of human powerlessness.  And in staging this inveterate grouser who ridicules his fellow countrymen’s Nazi past with deadly seriousness, STAN strikes just the right note.

It is about bloated Nazis, who decide that Buchenwald was not really so bad, that the small camps could have been worse. And about an acquitted mass murderer who ‘only’ has to answer for twenty-five deaths. The conversation is constantly interrupted by the memory of a delicious salad consumed in some country house or a beautiful hotel where they stopped off on one of their outings.

The three actors complement each other beautifully: the jittery Jolente De Keersmaeker, the calm Sara de Roo and the wonderfully churlish Damiaan de Schrijver. Together they have created a boisterous miscellany which brilliantly captures the typical Bernhardian humour.

It also establishes a link with the present day: aren’t our conversations all too often about good food, pleasant outings and beautiful clothes? The clothes are not mentioned: we are shown them. Rarely has dressing and undressing been used to such effect on the stage.

de Volkskrant, Marian Buijs, April 2nd 2005