All great art is irreverent or disrespectful in as much as it disrespects the past by casting it off and presents new ways of seeing and perceiving the world. The danger is that it takes itself too seriously, too earnestly, forgetting that humour can be as potent as any artistic or political diatribe. Artistic manifestos can be counterproductive in as much as they can lead to dogma. Surrealism was a good example whereby much of the originality and humour, much of it inherited from Dada, was stifled by André Breton’s inflexible approach as to what was and was not surrealism.
Dada, in the post WW1 years, realised that impudence and absurdity was an antidote to the horrors of that conflict and that humour was a powerful weapon. Dada and its influence on art and comedy has been prevalent right up to this day.
Humour is the main weapon in Nieuw Amsterdams Peil’s Arsenaal der Ongeleefde Dingen – translated as The Arsenal of Unlived Things – and the legacy of Dada and its Cabaret Voltaire is clearly apparent.
Performed by seven of the artists, from basically what seems to be a collective of like-minded musicians, the show is a brilliant series of a dozen or so sketches performed against huge, ever-changing back-projections, using instruments ranging from a trombone to saw, from keyboard to myriad percussion devices.
The trombone was first up, giving a very life-like impression of a bee buzzing around before the other instruments joined in to provide a cacophony of insect noises before we met the first character.
The toy-town, red-tuniced soldier was revealed, slumped over his exploded bass drum before he got up and proceeded to march slowly backwards and forwards clashing his cymbal while the others joined in with various marching effects. This really set the tone for the evening and very much put me in mind of a Karl Valentin, the genius Munich comedian/performer in the 1920s and 30s who, like Dada, was sickened by the First World War but also had to contend with the rise of Nazism and the impending WW2.
Another sketch which to me which was very Karl Valentin was the trombonist clop-clopping around the stage on/in a sort of hobby-horse while again making incredibly realistic horsey noises on his instrument.
Some of the tableaux were quite complex. I loved the one with the four removal men who played on numerous percussion instrument concealed in piles of cardboard boxes to the accompaniment of the keyboard player behind his office desk.
The back projection screen really came into its own with a clever use of shadows. A lady violinist came on and played, with her shadow being cast on the white screen behind her. I know it’s been done before but it soon became obvious the shadow was not hers at all but the silhouette of another violinist echoing, up to a point, her movements. The twist was the introduction of a life-size cartoon silhouette which cavorted on the screen, metamorphosing through various changes.
There were several short, throw-away pieces like the one with the photographer with an old bellows camera which doubled as an accordion and the hysterical opera singer who couldn’t manage to get her song out. The best one though was when a character wandered on stage wearing pyjamas and carrying a tuba. She stood in front on a night-time scene of a moon, some trees and three houses in darkness and proceed to raucously blow, not play, the tuba until one by one lights came on in the houses. When she had woken everybody up she wandered off and the lights went out – as did the moon.
The final sketch was the most elaborate involving a forest involving a very realistic back-projection and five or six trees behind which the performers hid while making bird songs.
I really loved Nieuw Amsterdams Peil’s Het Arsenaal der Ongeleefde Dingen and I will certainly be watching out for them in the future. It would be good to see more shows like this at the Korzo. Michael Hasted 9th January 2020