Staggering with style, a contemporary Passion
Anna Luyten - Knack (20 July 2006)

The Lobster Shop, the new play by Jan Lauwers and Needcompany, opened at the prestigious Avignon Theatre Festival. It is theatre that stays in your mind, fascinating you long after the curtain has fallen. It is a play that digs deep, but with a lightness that makes the drama human. It is a play that offers consolation in its formal respect for beauty and sincerity. It is a play with great richness of content resulting from the casual use of topical images that combine effortlessly with the surreal illusions of tragic characters. The Lobster Shop tells the story of Axel, a professor of genetics, and his wife Theresa, a mother creature. Their son Jeff died on the beach as a result of a silly accident. Axel and Theresa are each in their own way consumed by sorrow. Axel decides to drown himself in the sea. For his last supper he chooses to eat lobster. The waiter who serves the lobster in the restaurant, The Lobster Shop, clumsily spills the lobster dish on Axel’s white suit. Axel sees the meticulously planned ending of his life turning into utter chaos. He starts hallucinating. He embarks on a descent into hell. It is a voyage through an unstable world which, at the start of the 21st century, is burning fiercely. Salman, the first cloned human, is the climax of Axel’s scientific work. A superb youth, perfection in human form, but soulless in his complete lack of identity. The creation of Salman is Axel’s attempt to struggle against the imperfection of existence, an imperfection of which he himself is a victim. But in a world full of people who make frequent mistakes, it seems that it is precisely this desire for perfection that makes living together so inhuman. A scene: Axel and Theresa have organised an evening with friends. The conviviality of a barbecue is mimicked by the light from imitation log fires. ‘You’re late, the guests will be arriving any minute.’ ‘I bought some firelighters, otherwise you’ll never get the barbecue going.’ ‘I’ve invited a man who helped me load the sausages into my boot.’ ‘Is that a metaphor? Loading the sausages into your boot!’ Under the entire conversation runs the loneliness of a mother and father who have lost their son, plus their guilt and the desire for everything to be as it was before. But nothing in this play is as it was before. It is a world where everyone tries to cope with the chaos in their own way. And everyone tries in their own way to make their life story into a logical whole. But logic always fails. The only thing that helps is humour and occasionally singing a song. At the end of the play Theresa says to Axel: ‘Why should we want to improve the human race? ... you wanted perfection. But perfection is so predictable. Perfection is monotonous. No suffering, but no more pleasure either. Monotony will be the downfall of your new human.’ The Lobster Shop is a tribute to an unsteady human in his search for something to hold on to, a rhythm of his own. In the given situation no one is able to tell a coherent story, and it is the music that comes closest to it. The songs offer the actors an opportunity to celebrate the harmony of life in its many voices. The dance scenes are not only beautiful and consoling, but also display a vitality that is taken to the edge. It is this vitality that makes the play so powerful. It’s like the old saying: ‘if you’re going on a difficult journey you’d better put on easy shoes ’. The Lobster Shop is a play that challenges you to look at theatre in more than one way. It is a contemporary Passion in the form of a musical. On stage, people make love, shout, cry, work each other up and calm each other down, and it is to the actors’ credit that in this intense tragedy a chastening lightness continually resounds from the background. Staggering with style. Anna Luyten, Knack, 20/7/2006

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