by Marjolijn van Heemstra

Julie Van den Berghe / Frascati Productions
Wed 28 - Sat 7 Nov. (except Sun and Mon)

Fri 30 October
8:30 PM
Frascati WG (M.V.B. Bastiaansestraat 53 / Amsterdam)

Text: Marjolijn van Heemstra
Director: Julie Van den Berghe
With: Sarah Eweg, Marisa van Eyle and Mike Reus
Dramaturgy: Hubertus Martin Mayr
Design: Thierry Serra
Sound: Harpo ’t Hart
Assistant-director: Julie Peters
2012 is a Frascati production in cooperation with Goethe-Institut

"I am about to say something – is it noticeable?"

The young Dutch author Marjolijn van Heemstra has contributed an exhilarating, peculiar theatre piece to "After the Fall" – a piece that really gets under the viewer's skin. The title even remains mysterious: 2012. Is it a reference to a future date, is it a sequential number which refers to something that has been running for a long time? A television reality- or game-show, for example? Are the three protagonists of Russian origin (the author claims, at least, that the names mean one, two and three in Russian), possibly immigrants from a time after 1989, seeking social recognition, attention, and a little bit of happiness? Is the dark, doorless room in which they find themselves a television studio shortly before a broadcast is about to begin – as the three apparent candidates, Tri, Dva und Vodin (two women and a man), believe – or is it a no-man's land beyond life and death? There are 'prize suitcases', but no 'wheel' and no blonde assistant as in "The Price is Right".  There is initial disappointment among the candidates, who try to reassure one another. Everything is empty, dark and silent, and all that remains are traces of warmth on a chair, perhaps from someone who had recently sat there.

Then they see the light, literally, as a spotlight shifts rapidly from one candidate to another. As soon as the light strikes their faces, the candidates begin to speak. They do not know what is expected or demanded of them, but they simply speak without betraying their feelings of insecurity. They tell us about their lives, their hopes and fears, and increasingly talk themselves into a corner. Since none of them knows what their actual task is, a destructive rivalry soon develops between the candidates.

The virtual game is divided into three rounds. Three times, the spotlight shines into the dark room with glaring light, and apparently demands from the candidates that they "unfold before the viewers", and that "something should be transformed", that they should bare their "souls".

In between, there are dark pauses (commercial breaks?) in which the candidates try to reach an agreement about the possible rules, effects, and the current scores. Then the light goes on again and the three-way battle becomes more and more ruthless, physical, emotional and existential. They run towards the light, shove one another away, one against all, all against one. In the absence of a real quizmaster and real questions, the candidates take on this function and pose one another unanswerable questions.

A live rat is found in a 'prize suitcase'. Is it a remnant from an earlier affluent society, or a test/task planned by the studio? Surely they have to do something with it? They probably have to kill it, wring its neck in front of the cameras in spectacular fashion. "Television highlight of the year!" However, the rat escapes and can no longer be found. The candidates have failed, and the possible television spectators will begin to get bored and switch to another channel. "Images! We need images!"

As it all becomes too much for Tri and she wants to leave the doorless room, Dva gives her a goodbye embrace, and to Vodin's applause she slowly strangles her. At last it has arrived: The television highlight, the total reality TV and "in a moment the losers / must go outside all alone / in the pelting rain / a taxi home / isn't covered by the production budget / and there's a strong chance that no one will pick them up / because they are all banned  / and no one wants to miss the finale?  or because the houses are empty? / because all the cars have already been washed away?"

This piece does not just raise the familiar question about virtual worlds or about who, in which reality, feels more 'real', but also the question whether the term 'human dignity' requires a new definition in the new millennium. As a TV viewer today, one can witness how the human dignity of reality show candidates, haunted by fears of failure, is violated. It is a reference to the disgraceful public exhibition and sleazy exploitation of people who are in the grip of fear and disgust and who give up their ethical principles in order to satisfy an audience that craves sadistic entertainment. The audience is shown courageous, determined people who want to go to their limits. However these programme formats are all conceived in order to regularly push the participants beyond their limits (logically, otherwise the ratings will plummet).

How will this promising genre, the moral principles of which will perhaps become the norm in the future, develop further? In the wake of 'candid camera' and media-conducted on-the-edge experiences (e.g. Big Brother), the audience's voyeuristic cravings could, in an increasingly decadent society, lead to programme formats à la 'Running Man'. "The Running Man" is a film which portrays a TV programme in which convicted prisoners have to kill in order to avoid being killed themselves. And the audience watches live! By then it will probably no longer matter which walls fall when and where, for the streets will be empty and covered in mud, and the houses will be deserted.

Jens Groß