Sad Face | Happy Face
SN, APA - Salzburger Nachrichten (4 August 2008)

On Friday evening Jan Lauwers and his Needcompany thrilled the audience with their seven-hour theatre art on Perner Island in Hallein. They were rewarded by enthusiastic applause and standing ovations. The Belgian artist and theatre producer Jan Lauwers is quoted in the "Sad Face/Happy Face" programme as saying "If you remember what you have seen, we have done good work". There’s absolutely no reason for his Needcompany to have any doubts about this. The seven hour trilogy (with two 30 minute breaks), performed for the first time in toto on Friday evening at the Salzburg Festival on Hallein’s Perner Island, was acclaimed with enthusiastic applause and well-deserved standing ovations. An impressive theatre experience that really gets under your skin! Jan Lauwers has been at work for four years on this epic work. In 2004 "Isabella’s Room" was first shown, followed two years later by "The Lobster Pot". Both productions received worldwide acclaim. Salzburg’s drama director Thomas Oberender was so taken by them that he asked for the third part to be specially written for the Festival. Last Monday " The Deer House" ("Das Hirschhaus") had its premiere, and yesterday we had the first chance to see all three productions (bearing the subtitle "Three stories about the human character") at once. They are conceived as views of the past, the future and the present. "Each of the three plots is based on reality", said Lauwers, but evolved fictitiously. And in all three productions the Belgian presents himself as a passionate story-teller. In "Isabella’s Room" the protagonist (played by Viviane De Muynck) looks back on her life in short-burst excerpts portraying the ups and downs, the promises and lies of the 20th century. "The Lobster Pot" is splendidly absurd to begin with but ends in deep grief: a geneticist can’t get over the death of his son and is forced to watch how cars start to burn in the banlieues. And "The Deer House", probably the most intensive (both bodily and emotionally) yet long-winded production, sees the war in Yugoslavia crashing into the lives of a deer-breeding family, when a war photographer is forced to kill a member of the family and subsequently visits the family. "These are three totally different plots about the human character, all developed independently of each other", explained Lauwers. They are held together by the fantastic ensemble cast, that in the whole seven hours hardly changes. It’s just great watching what the cast achieves, how the plots are built up and evolved, how everything circles around lies and suffering, dealing with death (all the dead carry on speaking with the living), overcoming grief, and hope in general. In spite of the sceptical look at "the world outside", in spite of the tragedy, Lauwers manages to give the trilogy a conciliatory touch, an almost optimistic signature. There is a similarity with Alexander Kluge’s mini-narratives about the world. Add to this a smattering of sometimes gentle, sometimes husky pop-songs (like a Greek choir): In "Isabella’s Room" the Needcompany sings "What a Waste of Time is Pain", only to come to the conclusion in the final campfire scene of "The Deer House" that we are all "nothing but little people with big hearts". Lauwers himself introduced the performance, taking the stage in the first part as an observer and supporter before disappearing backstage. But his signature was always present: there is always action on different parts of the stage; light effects, dialogues, music, theatre and dance all fuse together to form a coherent whole; texts referring to current-day politics become universally comprehensible through their multilingualism and topical clarity. It was a marathon and that was why not all seats were taken. But those who dared were rewarded. Jan Lauwers and the Needcompany provided a thought-provoking, humorous, philosophical and just entertaining evening at the theatre. And some of us will of course be happy that both the music and texts came out on CD and as a book (Fischer Verlag) in time for the premieres.

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Jan Lauwers Grace Ellen Barkey Maarten Seghers performing arts visual arts Film
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