The horror! The horror! Josse De Pauw & Guy Cassiers adapt Joseph Conrad’s classic ‘Heart of darkness’ (‘Duister hart’)

Experienced theatre director + great actor + classic novel = unforgettable play? Hmm. Although I spent a nice evening at Toneelhuis (Antwerp) watching Duister hart (Dark heart/Coeur ténébreux), the adaptation (in Dutch) by Guy Cassiers and Josse De Pauw of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of darkness, it didn’t really sweep me of my feet. I had expected more of this.

A well-known, gifted actor once told me: to the contrary of what people think, there’s nothing easier than a theatre monologue. Audiences tend to have a great admiration for that lonely guy on stage, reciting all those lines he had to memorize. It’s much easier to impress them with a monologue than with a regular play.

So, yes, of course, it’s great to see that amazing actor Josse De Pauw tell Conrad’s classic story, of Charles Marlow going down the Congo river on a steamer to meet that mysterious Kurtz. But that’s something we all know the Belgian actor is absolutely capable of. And of course, his skills combined with those of Guy Cassiers and his team (the changing colours and patterns on the back wall were really beautiful)… it’s a combination that can’t go wrong.

But, nevertheless: I wasn’t entirely convinced. Strangely enough, I never had the feeling that I was actually getting to know this Charles Marlow character better, along the way. That I was getting an idea of what was going on in his mind; all the questions, all the turmoil. I didn’t feel that I was given a really clear picture of this strange Kurtz either. Sure, it was a great idea to mix, near the end, the images of De Pauw playing Marlow and of De Pauw playing Kurtz, to visualize the idea of Marlow identifying himself with Kurtz. I saw it, but I didn’t feel it.

And then another thing: at certain moments during the performance a couple of other characters make their appearance. Just as Kurtz they were all played by De Pauw himself (video images on that back wall), but ‘disguised’; for each role a different costume. It’s just a detail, but their costumes, their personae didn’t feel right to me. There was a misconceived comical aspect to it.

Let me put it this way: as I was watching this, I realized how those images from Coppola’s Apocalypse now (also based on Conrad’s Heart of darkness) were still stuck somewhere in the dark corners of my mind. Even after all those years. I don’t expect Duister hart to stay with me in the same way.


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