EN AVANT, MARCHE!
KING’S THEATRE, EDINBURGH
Reviewed by Mark Brown
The city of Ghent in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium, has made an extraordinary contribution to the contemporary performing arts. The city has a population of less than quarter-of-a-million, yet it boasts many of the biggest names in European theatre, dance and performance, such as experimental theatre companies Victoria and Ontroerend Goed (the latter of which is currently performing A Game of You as part of the Traverse Theatre’s Edinburgh Fringe programme).
In En avant, marche! the Edinburgh International Festival brings together two of Ghent’s most important performing arts companies, NTGent and les Ballets C de la B, with the Dalkeith and Monktonhall Brass Band from the east of Scotland. Brass bands, the piece seems to suggest, are fascinating mini-communities which swim against the tide of atomisation and individuation that characterises western societies in the 21st-century.
At the outset, as the fictional Flemish band’s declining and disappointed cymbalist shambles onto the stage to begin a humorous, solo rehearsal, the show has a promising, Beckettian dimension. Superb performer Wim Opbrouck appears like a cosmopolitan, multilingual Krapp, reflecting back on his best years, but still very much driven by an inner fire.
This contemplative character is joined by colleagues, ranging from two gold-clad, ageing majorettes to amorous, young male musicians with a taste for older women. The scene seems set for an affecting exploration of such themes as sex, death, ageing and our society’s obsession with youth.
It isn’t long, however, before co-directors Frank Van Laecke and Alain Platel whisk the piece away from this initial promise and into self-indulgent, postmodern histrionics. The majorettes, for instance, stand on chairs to scream their frustrations into the microphones placed high above the band.
Opbrouck meanders, shoeless, between the musicians, his obvious talents squandered on speeches that are mired in the postmodern obsession with “irony” and cultural relativism. His pointless eclecticism includes the lyrics of Sister Sledge’s 1979 dance hit Lost in Music, some lines of Dylan Thomas, and a gargling performance of God Save the Queen. It’s all depressingly reminiscent of Flemish “avant-garde” theatre maker Jan Fabre at his fake masturbatory worst.
If the dominant performative element irritates, the Dalkeith and Monktonhall Brass Band plays splendidly. A gorgeous piece of Dvorak towards the show’s conclusion reminds us that the only truly emotive aspect of the production has come from the Scottish musicians. Which, of course, is ironic.
Ends August 25
A slightly edited version of this review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on August 24, 2015
© Mark Brown