‘Kasimir & Karoline’: a roller coaster ride that goes wrong

Kasimir_&_Karoline

As every Bono, Madonna or Mick Jagger will tell you: building a huge stage means that you’ll have to fill it. Kasimir & Karoline, the new performance by Dutch theatre directors Johan Simons and Paul Koek, has an enormous stage. And unfortunately: actors running around, desperately trying to fill it.

The opening image is beautiful. While you are looking at that huge construction with green neon lights, waiting for something to happen, you all of a sudden notice that something is moving at your left. And yes, from quite far away Kasimir and Karoline come running. In Utrecht, where this performance premiered, that meant: through the fields at an old air force base. Panting, they arrive.

We are at the Oktoberfesten in Münich. Karoline (Els Dottermans) wants to have fun, but Kasimir (Wim Opbrouck) is grumpy. He was fired the day before. And so Karoline goes and finds other people to have fun with and ride that roller coaster. It’s the beginning of a love story going awry. The Hungarian-German Ödön (von) Horváth wrote the play in 1932. It is now being brought to the stage by directors Johan Simons and Paul Koek, who used to work together for the Dutch theatre company Hollandia. In 2005 they split up: Simons went to NT Gent (Belgium) and Koek to De Veenfabriek (Holland).

It takes one hour to read this play, one of the directors says in an interview. But on stage, it takes the actors two and a half hours to get to the last sentences. Of course, that’s because this Kasimir & Karoline has lots of songs and music in between. Rather nice music, I must admit, most of the time, influenced by German bands from the early eighties (remember that Neue Deutsche Welle?). But it is also because there is way too much running being done. Up and down the stairs, from the left of the building to the right.

Distance means also: big gestures, all of the time. And add to this the fact that, although the actors have microphones, they seem to feel they have to shout to each other to cover those distances. In their acting they hop back and forth between the caricature and the realistic, and stay on the periphery of what their characters might be.

Yes, all the running, shouting and big gestures make for fairly shallow portrayals and a play that doesn’t really draw you in. And that’s also because the story isn’t that intriguing, really, and the text is filled with philosophical wisecracks of the rather shallow kind: ‘People without feelings live an easier life’, or ‘Every intelligent human being has to be a pessimist.’ Only at the end do the characters seem to become real people. And that’s, not without a coincidence, when the stage gets ‘smaller’.

Am I sounding a tiny bit too negative? Maybe that’s because I expected too much, of these renowned directors and actors. But I did spend a nice evening, sitting outside, surrounded by a wide variety of people. Not the intellectual elite, but that typical summerfestival-audience. It’s up to you. Kasimir & Karoline has its shortcomings as a play, but it does have its merits as a grand summer-spectacle.

‘Kasimir & Karoline’, in Utrecht (till 5-7), Athens (13-7), Avignon (23, 24, 25, 27, 28-7) and Antwerp (3, 4, 5-9). More info here.

(photo credit: Phile Deprez)

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