Living on anyway, in spite of everything
Jean-Marie Wijnants - Le Soir (13 July 2006)

The Lobster Shop, darker than Isabella’s Room, examines our instinct for life. Moving. Jan Lauwers’ new play The Lobster Shop, first shown at the Avignon Festival and written in the wake of the huge success of Isabella’s Room, displays a great many similarities to that play. Its form, halfway between a story, a crazy musical (this time with a pronounced ‘country’ streak) and contemporary dance. The constant mingling of dream and reality. The strange costumes that are both exquisite and comical, and sometimes, as in the case of Axel’s white suit with its unravelling sequins, as expressive as the people who wear them. And then there are the actors: Hans Petter Dahl, the dancer Tijen Lawton, Benoît Gob, who plays Vladimir and the first cloned bear, Julien Faure as the refugeeseaman-waiter, Maarten Seghers as Salman, the first cloned human, and Anneke Bonnema, the narrator with the irresistible voice in each of the sung passages. Nor of course should we forget Inge Van Bruystegem as Nasty, and the outstanding Grace Ellen Barkey as Theresa, Axel’s wife. All the characters are so much more than just a character; each symbolises in their own way all the contradictions of our society. Axel, a genetic engineer, juggles with our genes, but is not capable of saving his son when he is struck by a simple cardiac arrest. Mo the refugee has no identity: he is what his current occupation makes him. Even the cloned bear becomes a living cuddly teddy that presents TV games. The TV is always on... In The Lobster Shop Jan Lauwers deals with a thousand questions concerning the age we live in. Beneath a breezy exterior, captivating and with the pretence of nonchalance, he delivers an excellent play that deals with man’s fears with a poignant elegance and sincerity. He trained as an artist and so knows better than anyone how to create a superb visual world. But he also – or above all – shows himself to be a gifted writer; meticulous, full of fantasy and at the same time delving deep into the complexity of human feelings. He says he wrote the play ‘in the solitude of hotel rooms with the television always on. Cynical realism and romantic sentimentality increasingly form the main accent in just about every conversation carried on today, and are therefore an inevitable component of this play.’ As if endlessly zapping, The Lobster Shop runs through all the fears of our era, and always returns to the one and only question: that of life and death. Axel, the genetic engineer, tries to create a new human who is perfect, without fear or blame. Near the end of the play Theresa calls out to him ‘You wanted perfection. But perfection is so predictable. Perfection is monotonous. No suffering, but no more pleasure either. Monotony will be the ruin of your new man.’ Axel and Theresa have been a broken couple since the death of their child. The horrible pain, the accusations they almost unthinkingly hurl at each other, the longing to die rather than continue suffering. Jan Lauwers tells us this is all part of human nature. But in the end this all encourages us to carry on living. Because, says Theresa with heartrending accuracy, ‘We don’t want to die. We find life the most agreeable thing there is, and that’s it. And do you know what, Axel, I think we’re right.’ Jean-Marie Wijnants, Le Soir, 13th July 2006

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