Guy Cassiers over De moed om te doden

Met Dirk van Dijck als vader, Wouter Hendrickx als zoon en Aminata Demba als Radka is De moed om te doden acteurstheater ‘pur sang'. Een enigszins atypische Guy Cassiers-voorstelling: zonder video, zonder technologie. Naast het ‘gezinsdrama’ vertelt het stuk ook iets over de samenleving als geheel en zelfs over Vlaanderen. 

Een voorstelling over krachten en angsten die sluimeren in het onbewuste. Regisseur Guy Cassiers licht toe.

An atypical Cassiers

“Lars Norén’s play, translated into Dutch as De moed om te doden (Courage to Kill), may seem a rather surprising choice in my current repertoire. To start with, it is a straightforward play rather than a novel. Secondly, it is a family drama and not a great epic narration like De welwillenden and Hamlet vs Hamlet to give two examples. It is also a fairly ‘realistic’ play, though in Norén’s case you always need to put that word between inverted commas. The realism of his early work – De moed om te doden is one of his first plays - always verges on psychosis. Anyway, the starting point is recognizable. A father comes and visits his son, they argue and things get completely out of hand. A third reason why it is an atypical Cassiers production is that I won’t be using any technology.” 


Damaged family relationships

“I see De moed om te doden as linking up with productions like Natuurgetrouw (after The Birthday Party), a play I made with my father in 1984 based on a script by Harold Pinter and on improvizations, De cementen tuin (after Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden), Rotjoch (after Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy), De wespenfabriek (after Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory) and also Bezonken rood after Jeroen Brouwers’ novel translated into English as Sunken Red. All those productions are about painful and damaged relationships between father, mother and child. It is of course too simplistic to say that the father in De moed om te doden is Jef Cassiers and that the son is Guy Cassiers. It doesn’t work like that. In the personalities of the two characters in Lars Norén’s play, I recognize much more the relationship between my father and his mother, my grandmother. That is not to say, of course, that as a theatre-maker you aren’t always to some extent engaged in self-analysis when you stage fathers, mothers and children. Indeed, I explicitly refer to that fact in the choice of production image, which is a photograph of my father and me. You could also say that there is always something of the father figure in the many rulers I put on stage last season.”


True to life

“I once appeared on stage with my father. That was in Natuurgetrouw (True to life).  The play was a settlement of scores with the figure of the father. The set was very simple, just a table and two chairs. Nothing else. We performed that play more than eighty times. It is about a birthday party for the father which degenerates into a terrible argument with the son. When I started making theatre, I didn’t want my plays to bear any resemblance whatsoever to what my father was doing. Now I note that there are many similarities and that the path I am travelling as a theatre-maker is similar to his. There comes a time when you have to have the courage to recognize that as a son, to recognize that you are becoming more and more like your father.” 


The past devours the future

“De moed om te doden is first and foremost a psychological story. It is part of Lars Norén’s psychoanalysis. He wrote it after the death of his father who literally came and haunted him. Translator Karst Woudstra, who knows Norén well, told me that Norén felt his father coming through the walls of the room! So the play was intended to kill his father symbolically, to banish the ghost of his father. Each in their own way, both father and son are fixated on the past. The father has fabricated an idealized past. The son shatters that illusion, but he can’t do more than that. Neither manages to come to terms with his own history. Time is no longer linear. There is no future. Father and son constantly repeat well-trodden patterns. Their past has devoured their future. That fixation on the past has made ties with the outside world impossible. They even seem to be afraid to go outside. At the end of the play, the son makes a point of closing the door of the house where he lives, but in fact both characters have been shut up in their ruined relationship from the beginning.”  


Ingenious banal dialogues

“On the surface, the dialogues look banal and mundane. But things are not what they seem. Though De moed om te doden was one of Norén’s first plays, he already had a great command of the language. The dialogues are a subtle and ingenious network of strategies and counter-strategies. In particular the father is a gigantic manipulator. At first you feel sorry for him because the son treats him so harshly and with such indifference, but as the play progresses you discover how cold and egoistic the father is. They are challenging roles for Mark Van Eeghem and Wouter Hendrickx.  They have nothing to hide behind and perform very close to the audience. This time I’m not using any transmitting microphones. In that sense it is all very naked.” 


Half pieces of furniture

“I opted for a sober set. The play is performed downstage. There is literally no depth. There is no performance space for the characters and so not for the actors either. The few items of furniture there are have been chopped in two by a black wall. The spectators only see half of a table, a sofa, a television, etc. The set is also a confined and broken world in which the characters try to survive. The end is ambiguous too: does the son really free himself of the father?” 



“The characters wear masks. They hide behind their role. The father has been a waiter all his life, invisible to the world or abased by it. As he himself says, nobody sees the waiter. Being the waiter, the formal politeness and his irritating submission have become second nature to him. The son is also a waiter, but in rather loucher circumstances. He keeps himself alive with semi-criminal activities. The father hasn’t managed to pass on any of his dreams to his son, only his failures and frustrations. The son increasingly recognizes himself in his father. In the end the masks must fall.”


Black Radka

“The girlfriend Radka also plays a role, quite literally even. She is a playback singer by profession. She doesn’t really sing. She imitates others to entertain in a bar, where she met the son. Radka is played by Aminata Demba, a young black actress I first met at a workshop prior to the production of Het vertrek van de mier (The Departure of the Ant, Het Paleis/KunstZ/Toneelhuis). I wanted to cast her in it, but she was tied up with another project. The choice of Aminata Demba is certainly part of a conscious decision to bring onto the stage more actors and actresses with a different cultural and ethnic background, without the play having to be about that difference. In Norén’s script there is no reference whatsoever to Radka having African roots, but it does create a new context for the play. Though her colour is not a subject of discussion, she is an outsider. Like the spectators, she looks on in amazement at the fight between father and son, who sometimes even forget she is there. It is Radka who sparks a ‘conflict’ between a sexually active father and a much more passive and voyeuristic son, and you may well wonder if the son doesn’t leave his father alone with Radka on purpose. He once caught his father with the maid and perhaps wants to re-create that scene.”


Is Flanders afraid to change?       

“But as well as being a ‘family drama’, the play also tells us something about society as a whole and even about Flanders. I asked Bart Van Nuffelen to ‘flemish-ify’ Karst Woudstra’s translation. That’s something I never normally do; I tend to stick to standard Dutch in my productions. In this case I felt it had to be Flemish. I recognize something of Flanders in the conflict between father and son: a fear of change and a tendency to constantly say “things used to be better”. I sometimes feel that in Flanders we have lost the balance between present and past. The father and the son are people without a future. They have made themselves impossible for each other by becoming inward-looking. That is a dangerous mentality. It leads to an indifference to the real problem. Neither father nor son confronts reality. They devour each other in an ever-shrinking world. And if you want to take the associations further, you could say that the black Radka refers to Belgium’s colonial past or to migration. That is not what the play is about, of course, but her colour does evoke certain associations. She is, as I said, an outsider. Precisely because those associations are not explicitly named, their effect can be very powerful. In fact, that’s what the play is about: about forces and fears slumbering in the unconscious.” 


(recorded by Erwin Jans, September 27th 2016)

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