How real is the actor?

For all of two hours Peter Van den Eede, Damiaan De Schrijver and Matthias de Koning banter about the actor's function in the theatre. They use one of Diderot's texts, Paradoxe sur le comédien , constantly peppering it with personal considerations. Put these three actors around a table and you instantly get fine cuisine. Even an eighteenth-century essay becomes a feast, and a highly palatable one at that.

Diderot's paradox concerns the fact that actors should refrain from any type of emotional involvement the better to allow the audience to believe in the part they play. The more it looks real, the more artificial it is. This paradox is not only the subject of their conversations; it is also brilliantly enacted. The audience is invited on stage where they almost sit on top of the actors, as if the audience was part of the theatre's illusion.

The men play that they're preparing to play: they're going to play that they're talking about acting. Everything is fake: the blood is berry juice, the whisky is tea. With assumed dignity De Schrijver 'adorns' the set with plastic poultry and fruit. Putting on their wigs is a comedy turn in its own right.

They can hardly move in the cluttered set for all the tables and chairs, old sets and piles of props. They get entangled in wires and bumble about with the lighting and sound equipment. It's a parody on the typical actor who tries to move his audience by putting to use a wide variety of techniques and styles, who stays empty inside in order to fill up with a host of other characters. The craft is spelled out.

They do all this in their own particular style, hovering on the edge of the farcical, now unemotional and then quite bombastic - because an actor should always exaggerate. But in the end they fall into the trap of their own perfect imitations. And the audience follows suit. They illustrate and mock their line of reasoning with a volley of inside jokes.

Diderot wrote this text as a dialogue. By portioning out the cake over the three of them they get more theatrical leeway. They interrupt each other, needle each other, experiment with emotions, chase each other, reveal or hide things, while always being fully aware of the audience's presence. In the end no one knows any more what is 'authentic' or 'artificial', but hilarity is always assured.

This is brilliant actor's theatre. The fact that we're being told by characters that an actor should efface oneself, in a performance entirely made by men who explicitly play off their personality as actors, is the funniest paradox of them all.

De Standaard, Fred Six, January 19, 2002

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