Absurdities on high heels: Wunderbaum plays Arnon Grunberg (‘Onze Paus/Our Pope’)

Famous Dutch writer writes play for Polish theatre. Polish theatre refuses play and gets a lot of flak for that decision. Young Dutch theatre company (Wunderbaum) later on decides to stage the play anyway. Of course Onze paus (Wunderbaum speelt Grunberg (Our pope; performance in Dutch) then becomes a play that gets talked about. Having seen it in Ghent, I am thinking: maybe that Polish theatre director wasn’t that wrong after all.

Beaten by your heroes, part two. First Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and manga writer Osamu Tezuka (review here). Now: Wunderbaum and Arnon Grunberg. In the programme the members of this Dutch theater collective (linked to Ghent’s NTG) confess to having been big fans of the renowned Dutch writer for years. Eventually they had the courage to ask Grunberg to write something for them, an offer he refused, having no time left to do so. But he did draw their attention to Onze paus, a play he had written in 2007 for Wspolczesny Teatr in Wroclaw.

At first Wunderbaum was a  bit hesitant, but after having read the play they decided to take on the challenge. Right from the start, they capture your attention, by making their intentions clear. After that Flemish teacher (who’s taking on a temporary assignment at a university in Poland) has walked on stage with his girlfriend, you soon realize that they have taken the right decision: accentuating the absurd in Grunberg’s play and going for that the whole way.

But whatever they do, and no matter how crazy and over the top they try to make this, it gets pretty obvious real soon as well that Grunberg’s story is a little on the thin side. Yes, it’s funny to see all the things that teacher has to endure (a kafkaesque nightmare), or the effort that high-heeled blonde bombshell of a dental assistant puts in her campaign to become a news anchor. But slowly and gradually Onze paus nevertheless becomes a tedious affair (the fact that Grunberg makes the Flemish couple ‘describe’ their story instead of giving them real dialogue certainly doesn’t help).

And when the ‘old’ pope and a young version finally enter the stage (the catholic church and their abuse of young children, haha, yawn, yawn) and the dental assistant puts the hand of that young pope on her body, you just shrug; glad it’s finally over.


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