Reality tv, a cook named Duchamp and an actor committing suicide: welcome to ‘The Art of Entertainment’ (Jan Lauwers/Needcompany)

The things an artist wants to talk about and what he actually ends up saying. Always an interesting topic. Take The Art of Entertainment by Belgian theatre director Jan Lauwers and his Needcompany for instance. Read the programme afterwards and you’ll notice that there are lots of interesting issues Lauwers wanted to address with this performance, and you’ll realize that they have all been incorporated in one way or the other in this play about a reality tv-show during which actor Dirk Roofthooft commits suicide. But while I was actually watching The Art of Entertainment (Kaaitheater, Brussels) I merely had the feeling of looking at a silly Tommy Cooper routine taking much too long. Funny, but tedious.

A play about the excesses of reality tv? Isn’t Jan Lauwers a bit late with that? Haven’t we said all there is to say about Big Brother and his family already years ago? So: why this theatre performance about a tv-show, The Art of Entertainment, during which actor Dirk Roofthooft will commit suicide? And during which his girlfriend Gena unexpectedly decides to do the same. Well, because it allows Lauwers to talk about a lot of the other issues that are on his mind.

Read the programme and they are all nicely pointed out to you. Art versus entertainment, the power of theatre, reality versus fiction/acting, terror and media, the surge of cooking shows on tv, the lasting influence of Marcel Duchamp‘s Fountain on contemporary art (since he turned a urinal upside down everything can be a work of art), the way contemporary media provide us with some sort of matrix we all tend to live in, human sacrifice and the affluence of death in the news and  in tv-series, and of course: beauty (Disney!) in art, and the question if an artist should take account of his audience. All of that, and more.

But what do you get? A play which takes too long (the tempo is too slow) performed in that typical postmodern sort of way: turning everything upside down all of the time (he is dead, no he is not dead, he is an actor, he knows how to pretend, haha), and building something up and then taking it down again. Just when you start believing a scene, they destroy it. Silly jokes and slapstick here, there and everywhere. Sure, it’s a clever patchwork of things, the actors are really fine and some of the scenes are choreographed in a great way with many things going on at the same moment. But some of it is really annoying too, such as that ever-present camera used for filming details that are shown on tv-screens on both sides of the stage. Screens you never ever look at.

Yes, I laughed at some of those jokes, had fun watching some of those slapstick moments. But unfortunately, that’s what I took home from this performance too: those moments of laughter and nice acting. But have I, since watching The Art of Entertainment, been thinking about all (or some of) the issues Jan Lauwers wanted to address in this performance? No. I had to read about them in the programme. Too bad.

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