Anne Gehring & Vera Ketelaars
Directed by Marjolein Frijling
Pros: A very relatable, poignant story with recognisable characters. Wonderful weird writing.
Cons: A strange and rather awkward watch and not to everyone’s taste. Perhaps not the best choice for a family outing or a first date.
Our Verdict: At times hilarious, at times tragic, this is a brilliant look at the desire to run away from your life. Experimental theatre at its best.
Performed in a space of very sparse décor, with nothing but a couple of crates for props, the play starts with actors Anne Gehring and Vera Ketelaars seating themselves down in front of their audience and, after a long awkward silence, beginning their tale.
Olga, we are told, gets on an early morning bus at exactly the same time as Dino. They are the only two people on the bus but for some reason they sit next to each other. Olga and Dino are both about to disappear. They are about to leave their lives and their loved ones for good to start anew, somewhere else, from scratch. The play then goes back and reconstructs what has preceded this point. We are treated to a series of disconnected vignettes from Olga and Dino’s lives. Anne Gehring plays Olga and Vera Ketelaars plays Dino, but they also take turns narrating and playing various secondary characters in both of the women’s lives. The scenes are pieced together out of chronological order, and with little to connect them. The flow feels strange but somehow works.
Chronology is often indicated by the narrator telling us how many days before the disappearance a particular scene occurs. The disappearance is the culmination of everything, and is the only thing binding all these scenes together. It is the only common element in the lives of these two women, who in most other ways are very different. Dino is shy and socially awkward. She is a talented cellist but her life is a bit of a disaster. Olga on the other hand is happily married, has a very lively social life, and no tangible reason to be unhappy. Dino is cut off from her world, acting catatonic more often than not. Olga is a social butterfly, verging on manic. There’s a particularly brilliant scene in which she delivers a long monologue at machine-gun pace to a bored, drunk guest at her birthday party. She comes across as a nervous wreck, vacillating between laughter and tears, to hilarious and tragic effect.
But what emerges for both of these women is a picture of suffocation and depression. They have people who love them, and lives, which, on the grand scale of things, should be perfectly pleasant and devoid of suffering. Their decision to disappear therefore can seem a little selfish and melodramatic, particularly since it’s not clear what alternative to their current lives they think they can find. But this didn’t bother me – the disappearance is almost a fantasy, and a very relatable one. We all have moments when we want to run from our responsibilities; personal, professional and emotional. Moments when it all feels too much, and when the meaning of it all eludes us. This play depicts that feeling very powerfully.
The two actresses give it their all and at times it’s an excruciating watch, in a good way. They delight in making the audience feel uncomfortable (sometimes a little too much), particularly with long awkward silences. English is not their first language and for the most part this is impressively irrelevant. There were a few aspects of the performance, however, which I felt might have been better served in the original Dutch. In particular, the scenes of social satire, where the impressions of what were supposed to be familiar characters weren’t quite pulled off.
If you like experimental theatre and are up for an unflinching look at what can lie under the surface of many a banal, middle-class life – this play is for you.
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Bye Bye World has now completed its run at the Battersea Arts Centre.