Last season Ivo van Hove, the artistic director of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, grouped a number of performances around the theme of 'marriage'. One of them was Kruistochten (The Norman Conquests), a three-part comedy by the English writer Alan Ayckbourn (1939). Van Hove made Kruistochten into such a sparkling, attractive spectacle that it will remain on the programme this season and can therefore also be performed in Brussels. Moreover, the performance was nominated for the Theaterfestival 2005.
Ayckbourn is a writer of comedy who is able to reconcile entertainment and profundity and merges them together. In 1973 he wrote the trilogy The Norman Conquests, in which he tells the same story from three different points of view. One weekend a son, his two sisters and their partners come to spend the weekend at their parents' home. The sick mother is present in the house but does not appear on stage. The youngest daughter Annet, who has taken on the responsibility of caring daily for her mother, wants to use this visit by her sister Ruth (accompanied by her husband Norman) and her brother Rik (with his wife Sarah) to spend a weekend by the sea. However it soon becomes clear that she does not want to go off on her own, but would really like to spend a few amorous days with her brother-in-law Norman.
The existence of this plan and the obstructions that get in its way naturally lead to several comic situations and gives Ayckbourn the chance to explain his philosophy of marriage both elegantly and acutely. In his view long marriages are either problematic or boring. He describes the characters and their comic exteriors gently but with a critical eye; behind this however, one feels the pain and especially the longing. The first part is set in the kitchen, the second part in the sitting room and the third in the garden.
In Van Hove's version the three parts are performed in a single evening. The stage designer Jan Versweyveld has created an ingenious multifunctional 'house' for the purpose. In the stage setting the floor is the most important location as it is here that the characters sit, lie (to make love), talk, eat, etc. It is therefore hardly surprising that the floor gradually begins to resemble a rubbish dump. A camera above the floor records everything that goes on and at the end we see a speeded up version of 'the best of' on a large screen.
Van Hove, Versweyveld and their actors have made this Kruistochten into a wonderful comic experience. The Toneelgroep Amsterdam actors - with Hans Kesting in the lead as Norman - prove that they are absolute masters of the difficult art of comedy acting, with its precise timing and an approach to the characters that is part immersion and part self-reflecting.
texte Alan Ayckbourn
mise en scène Ivo van Hove
traduction Janine Brogt
scénographie Jan Versweyveld
concept son Richard Janssen en Bram de Sutter
concept costumes An D’Huys
concept vidéo Erik Lint
dramaturgie Bram de Sutter
avec Roeland Fernhout, Renée Fokker, Fred Goessens, Jaap (le chat), Hans Kesting, Hilde Van Mieghem, Karina Smulders