Crime and punishment in a never-ending story: ‘Marktplaats 76/Marketplace 76’ (Jan Lauwers & Needcompany)

‘Winters end, but stories always go on.’ By the time Jan Lauwers utters those words, wrapping things up, you’ve seen it all: death, rape, suicide, incest, crime, atonement and revenge. Packed in a performance comprising song and dance, combining grotesque elements à la Paul McCarthy and silly stuff that remind you of children’s stories. Marktplaats 76/Marketplace 76 sure is entertaining, but those last words of the Needcompany director also expose its Achilles heel: you feel Lauwers could have gone on and on, adding new chapters to his story. I was missing a sense of urgency.

As they run on stage, that whole group of actors, musicians and dancers, you immediately feel a sense of excitement. Here’s a bunch of people ready to entertain, ready to take on that performance they’ve prepared for you. All over the stage, you see props and things waiting to be used. In the middle a tank that your imagination will be told to turn into a fountain, a couple of guitars at your right hand side, and a chair and a small reading stand for director Jan Lauwers, who starts this performance off, introducing the actors and the roles they will be playing.

Right away we’re told about the drama this small community had to deal with: one year ago an explosion killed 24 people and now they’re about to commemorate this dreadful event. But then a boy falls out of a window, and his sister is kidnapped (and abused) for 76 days, and then her desperate mother commits suicide, and then the kidnapper has to be brought to justice, and then it turns out his wife isn’t all that innocent, and then the villagers come up with an appropriate way for her to atone for it. How does a small community cope with all of that (and more)?

Lauwers is a pro, when it comes to putting all those elements and the bigger things they refer to, in an accessible story. Mixing in silly jokes and some nice songs along the way too (he himself often plays the guitar as well), not forgetting to add a few elements from recent and less recent Belgian events, and references to ancient Greek stories (Marketplace meaning agora) and contemporary art (Paul McCarthy and Jeff Koons’s inflatable dolphins).

But Lauwers can’t help being that kid of the postmodern age he developed his skills in, too. And that’s the element, I suppose, which will make opinions on Marketplace 76 differ. Either you applaud the smart way in which he easily mixes in or addresses that many different, rather elemental issues, or you’ll have difficulties with the fact that he and his Needcompany always smilingly keep a distance.

Personally I prefer someone who really succeeds in making me feel something, or think about a certain issue, or who sheds some revealing light on it. However cunningly this patchwork is constructed, in the end it is just entertainment; song and dance. And a story that could have gone on and on.

Tourdates here.

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