Opening night of the DELFT FRINGE Festival 2019 at the Rietveld Theater

Steel Sheep

The Festival got off to a flying start last night at a packed Rietveld Theater in the heart of Delft. A combination of teaser and first night party, it showcased three of the very diverse acts taking part in this year’s event.

First up was a trio of young musicians who almost personified the organiser’s policy of making the Festival both Dutch and international – most of the acts are based in the Netherlands but many include foreign nationals. Steel Sheep consists of an American, a Spaniard and a Slovenian.

As I was watching I was wondering how I was going to categorise them. The violin, guitar and double-bass line-up could, in principal, play any type of music and in their half-hour set they managed to work their way through lots of them. They bill themselves as progressive folk music but I think they were slightly more jazzy with the relationship between Bela Horvat on violin and Virxilio da Silva on acoustic guitar, putting me in mind of Le Hot Club de France with Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt .

Avoiding the usual well-trodden, often clichéd, repertoire of the Real Book, their original compositions were a wonderful melange of styles and influences, including not only jazz but Celtic folk, bluegrass, Cajun and I’m sure I even detected the odd Yiddish phrase here and there. Bela Horvat’s virtuoso violin playing was exceptional and outstanding and he managed to coax sounds from his amplified violin that I have never heard before, using extensive pizzicato and lots of sometimes aggressive, sometimes delicate, bowing. American Matt Adomeit on bass provided a solid foundation for the trio and his playing off the guitar reminded me of Danny Thompson in The Pentangle. The set was a showcase of versatile and original musicianship and Steel Sheep is certainly one of the must-see acts of the Festival.

Next up was Dutch cabaret duo Vlamousse. Now, as this was in Dutch, and therefore me not understanding much of it, it would be unfair for me to pass judgement. However, the gist of the set consisted of two strands – firstly racial discrimination and secondly genital hygiene. Maya van As is very blonde indeed and Brigitte van Bakel is of mixed race – or double-blood as they chose to call it – therefore providing the perfect basis for presenting the former theme. To expound and explain the problems of the latter, Ms van Bakel spent a good deal of time dressed in a giant penis suit – in fact a giant self-inflating penis suit. All done, of course, in the best possible taste and the audience loved them.

The evening’s final performance was by the Festival’s poster girl, Sanne Vleugels, with her set, The Eternal Bridesmaid. Now, Ms Vleugels is a very fine opera singer with a light, mellifluous voice but chose comedy, and a sort of Miss Piggy persona, as a context in which to perform her songs. Using the songs, ranging from Mozart to Bizet, she developed her story-line of being left on the shelf and of being a bit of a glutton able to resist everything except temptation. The high-spot and climax of the performance was the song A Word on my Ear (I’m Tone Deaf) by an English dinner-jacketed duo from a long lost era, Flanders and Swann.

I must say that initially I didn’t warm to the character but she slowly grew on me and I really enjoyed it. I won’t say it was a pity that the set was first and foremost comedy but I would say that I, for one, would have been equally happy just listening to her sing.  Michael Hasted    31st May 2019

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