And we will all go down together: ‘Bloed & rozen/Blood & roses – The song of Joan and Gilles’, by Guy Cassiers & Tom Lanoye

Let me think… An impressive Joan of Arc (Abke Haring), fabulous goth-looking costumes with lots of extra wooden hands by Tim Van Steenbergen, a virtuoso combination of acting and video, and a play that took too long. That’s how, one week after the premiere at Toneelhuis (Antwerp), Bloed & rozen (Blood & roses, Sang & roses) is stored in my mind. The new play (performance in Dutch) by author/playwright Tom Lanoye and theatre director Guy Cassiers will be presented at the Festival d’Avignon (Cour d’Honneur) in July.

There’s the ambition of the writer, and the patience of the viewer. Tom Lanoye has conceived Bloed & rozen as a diptych. First he tells the story of Joan of Arc, then the story of Gilles de Rais. Naive Joan and cruel Gilles. Both, in the end, victim of that ruthless institution that we all know as the catholic church. It’s clear that Lanoye needs both parts to develop his ideas. But sitting there, in my seat, it often felt as if I was watching an ambitious construction instead of a play that swept me away. And the play suffered from that. After Joan ended up on the pyre (beautifully played by Haring and wonderfully staged by Cassiers), Bloed & rozen took a dip. You really needed some effort to pay enough attention to sit through all of that second part.

But apart from that – and those few rather cheap jokes referring to recent events in Belgium regarding a pedophile bishop – Bloed & rozen is a great night out. Lanoye doesn’t make things too difficult (the first part especially just feels like an adventure story well told), and all of the actors give it what they’ve got.
Abke Haring is impressive as Joan of Arc: naïve, enthused, and full of doubts. Johan Leysen (is there a voice that can go deeper than his?) succeeds in slowly turning into a complex Gilles, and I’ll always be a fan of Katelijne Damen, the coolest of the cool. And let me add to this that in fact all the other actors should deserve to be mentioned. There’s not one single weak link.

And then of course, you have Guy Cassiers and Tim Van Steenbergen. I really loved Van Steenbergens goth-looking, leather costumes with a futuristic look. At first I thought the wooden hands he added to almost all of them, were a bit strange. But when you see the actors, filmed, on the video screens, those hands really prove to be a well-chosen, almost sinister ‘accessoire’.
And Cassiers? Well, by now theatre-goers know what he’s capable of, by mixing live acting and filmed images of that live acting (this time combined with backdrop images that were shot on location in Avignon). By shifting between larger scenes and intimate close-ups. But once again, he proves to be a master at his game. 

 

 

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