The Middle Ages, what a dirty, messy period it was! People driven by their passions had to be held in check with strict religion and just wandered round in a world controlled from above which was beyond their comprehension. The young Flemings from the Lisaboa Houbrechts & Kuiperskaai collective paint an uncompromisingly sensuous picture of the Middle Ages in their latest production 1095. And in the process show just how little progress we, the human race, have made since then.
Two monks dressed in black habits appear, one from the left and one from the right. Their faces are concealed under large hoods. They mutter and snarl and fall flat on their faces. There they snarl miserably a little more, stand up and, still snarling, each erects a wall of the set. Ora et labora. For a moment the snarling sounds like the singing of Tibetan monks. And then suddenly not any more. Brother Benny falls silent and stuffs his mouth full of soil. The brown hole an echo of the bum he bares to his fellow believers.
The world of that time is not the only thing that echoes in the crumbling universe that Kuiperskaai’s set designer Oscar van der Put constructed. The theatre-makers keep strictly to the plot, written by Viktor Lauwers, which tells the story of the young Benedictine monk Benny who is banished in the year 1095. The journey he makes through Flanders and France reaches an all-time low in a leper camp near Cordoba. While the Moors and Christians drive each other out of the city in a struggle for power and what is right, the group of lepers overpowers Benny’s sweetheart. The Pope cries out for a crusade, the caliph for irrevocable punishment, the leper for a wife. And yet: all those maniacal moments have their counterpoint in history afterwards. Under that habit, under that slave costume, man is naked and these actors prove it. Vulnerable and soaking wet. Just wanting to be right, on a religious and ideological level, and just shouting and screaming. Whole groups chase them away. The body looks for release.
The characters - the Moorish slave (Romy Louise Lauwers), the Flemish farmer’s wife (Lobke Leirens) and the monks (Viktor Lauwers and Seppe Decubber) - lead such a tough life to the full among their wooden walls and crates, the pathetically worn-out rubbish bag horse and the shadow play that it literally becomes tangible in the front rows. Director Lisaboa Houbrechts encouraged her actors not to hold back. They disguise their voices, foam at the mouth, vomit and sweat and make the language work as hard as the body. In the meantime we hear grating and propelling music composed by Maxime Rouquart who, amidst all the exuberance, plays the silent Benny making his way through Europe.
So much in-your-face flesh and blood is forceful and intense. The thundering excess of passion and additional chaos leave no room for contemplation. The intervals are sealed with long-drawn-out musical, visual scenes, like intoxicating rituals. This is one where you take a good intake of breath and surrender to revulsion and fascination. Thinking only comes later. Scrolling through your timeline you see: shouting leaders, imposed religion and people wandering through Europe. And the body looks for release. The subject was already raised by Theater Artemis in Kruistocht (Crusade) a couple of weeks ago: it does seem as if in this our dirty, messy period we are on a return journey to a sort of Middle Ages.
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