Smooth criminals meeting in a garage: Titus De Voogdt & Johan Heldenbergh in ‘Vorst-Forest’

Sometimes your heart is rooting for those performers, but your head doesn’t agree. Or what happened when I was watching Vorst-Forest, the new theatre performance (without words), by KVS & Compagnie Cecilia, at KVS (Brussels). Main actors Titus De Voogdt and Johan Heldenbergh give it all they’ve got, but in the end, it just isn’t enough.

A garage. A criminal. Then another criminal arrives. They both wear an ankle tag. They clearly know each other. They are friends. But they’re not allowed to meet. Nevertheless, they want to spend some time together. This, in a nutshell, is the story of Vorst-Forest. What Titus De Voogdt and Johan Heldenbergh feel or think, they can not express in words, as both actors have opted for a wordless theatre performance. So what you get is a series of (often funny, Jaques Tati-like slapstick) scenes, trying to depict feelings and thoughts. Now and then the actors sing a song as well.

Anyone who’s ever seen Titus De Voogdt, knows that he is a very physical actor. So, of course, there are a couple of scenes involving acrobatics; some of them looking as if they’ve been taken out of some sort of wrestling picture book. Because of course, real men don’t hug and kiss, they’re unable to talk about their feelings, they tease and kid about. And it goes without saying that they just have to use those couple of mattresses in a cart in a corner of that garage (nice decor, by Michiel Van Cauwelaert).

Was it because I attended the premiere? That everything didn’t fall into place yet? That it lacked tempo? My heart wants to think so, but my head doesn’t agree. Making a wordless performance is a tricky thing. You have to come up with enough ideas to  make it work. At that’s where Vorst-Forest falls short, for instance. There’s simply not enough to make this a strong, really convincing performance. It certainly is a great image, to see Titus De Voogdt sitting as a bird on that coffee pot. But he is sitting on that pot one time too many, for instance. De Voogdt and Heldenbergh’s characters stay rather one-dimensional too.

They try to put some layers in Vorst-Forest, by introducing a character that is supposedly somehow Titus De Voogdt’s conscience, but it never becomes clear what his role or function exactly is. His presence feels contrived. The same can be said for actress Lotte Vandersteene, who isn’t really integrated in this ballgame either. De Voogdt & Heldenbergh clearly wanted to avoid to tell a straight story too, so they fooled around with the chronology of their story, but they end up with something rather fuzzy.

It’s obvious that Vorst-Forest will gain some speed and become better as it will be played more often. But nevertheless: slightly disappointing.

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