If you find yourself in the Markt, Delft’s main square, you would be excused for performing an exaggerated theatrical double take as you are confronted by a seven meter high, pink origami rabbit. The bunny is the front end and ticket booth of what has become one of the high-spots in the city’s cultural calendar.

After two fallow years the Delft Fringe Festival was back, bigger and better than before. No fewer than forty-three talented theatre makers in all manner of entertaining disciplines. The Festival included the premieres of twenty-two shows and, in total, there were about 250 performances at twenty six venues dotted around, mostly in the city centre.

Here are Michael Hasted’s reviews from the performances he attended . . .

Sketch351 + Nuno Lobo’s It Rose Behind the River is a children’s story – of children, not necessarily for children. Billed as a “virtual opera”, the story is told as a dialogue between a trombone and a flute. Luckily there is a large screen above the darkened stage to provide us with sub-titles. It is essentially about a boy and a girl trying to stave off the inevitability of adulthood by focusing on a mysterious bright light on the horizon. Nuno Lobo’s tale of threatened innocence was beautifully performed by musicians Daniel Martins, Ana Ribeiro, Ines Lopes, Ricarod Oliveiro and Maira Nabeiro. Really enjoyed it.

We all know what unruly companions supermarket trolleys can be: large, unmanageable monsters with minds of their own always insisting on going one way when you want to go another. Alienated’s disCART demonstrated the problem. Performer Raphaël Albanese’s struggle with his wire adversary was almost like a bull fight at times or a boxing match with each participant trying to gain the upper hand. Dis-CART, created by Kelly Vanneste, with an excellent soundscape by Reggy van Bakel, demonstrated that simple ideas, simply presented, can often be the most effective.

Headlining the Festival opening, and indeed the Festival itself, were the Tappin-It Collective with their Doemsdee. Tap dancing used to be all the rage in the 1930s and 40s. It could range from the sublime with Fred Astaire to the ridiculous with the hilarious and brilliant sequence in Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein. In both cases the dancers dress in white tie and tails – a bit old fashioned. But that was then and this is now and Robin Lie and Doortje Peters have dragged tap dancing out of the past, dusted it off and created an act which is original and inventive while still retaining and demonstrating the skills that made the form so popular all those years ago. Winners of last year’s Audience Prize, and with two other dancers, Rowan Kievets and Raquel Tijsterman, the two ladies’ new show is a stark warning about the dangers of plastics. And it’s not just tap-dancing (in fact I was expecting more). The show is quite elaborate, involving a tree made out of plastic plumbing pipes and a lot of plastic bottles. The amazing climax had the audience gasping and laughing, all at the same time.  

The double bass is a sad instrument in many ways – slow, heavy and always standing, albeit tall, at the back. But in the hands of Jonathan Nagel, in his piece entitled eventually, the instrument comes alive, asserts itself, revealing its inner depths and possibilities. Jonathan’s act consists of him playing his bass, fed through an array of effects pedals, while a female dancer interprets the sounds. The performance area in the wonderfully evocative old Sigarenfabriek in the centre of Delft was marked by a rough oval of strips of tiny LED lights in which Maria Mavridou danced while the audience sat on benches in a semi-circle. The LEDs were the only light source and their changing intensity enabled subtle changes of mood as the piece unfolded. Although Jonathan and his bass were still at the back, hidden in the shadows, the sounds that emerged flouted the idea that the instrument is only ever there for support and stability. The bass is the engine room, the foundation on which any band or orchestra stands but, like the ugly duckling, under Jonathan’s bow the instrument emerges and demonstrates its beauty and asserts itself in all its glory. Sometimes like a roaring wild beast, sometimes shrieking like a banshee, the sounds he produces are amazing, they vibrate and penetrate your whole body.

Back at the Rietveld Theatre we were at the premiere of Don’t Let It Worry You Now by Skandalisi Dance. This performance also involved a lone female dancer but this time to a mainly pre-recorded soundscape. It started with a neon tube being caressed and continued with a lot of expressive rolling around on the floor, often in front of giant projections on the wall behind. The music was excellent throughout culminating in Peter Gabriel’s brilliant version of David Bowie’s Heroes.

One of the things I like about the Fringe Festival is the diversity of venues, of which the Génestetkerk on Oude Delft is one of the most interesting. Hidden away at the back of a concealed courtyard, the church is one of Delft’s hidden gems. It was the setting for the two events we visited on the first Saturday of the Festival. At lunchtime Zeestraat Collective performed Kaas en Noten billed as a refurbishment of John Cage’s Suite for a Toy Piano. Despite the act’s name this was in fact a collection of one, the lone Inês Lopes, who squatted on a tiny stool in front of a miniature grand piano surrounded by numerous small percussion instruments. At times it was almost like a one-man-band with Ms Lopes having bells on her fingers and rattles on her toes while playing the mini-piano with one hand and a Hohner Melodica in the other. Inês Lopes is also the pianist with Sketch351 whom we saw on opening night and loved. Despite the relative crudity/simplicity of the instruments this was surprisingly musical and very entertaining in a wonderful setting.

Later at the Génestetkerk we saw Naïma Souhaïr whose act is based on insecurity. In the performance Imposter, she battles her imposter syndrome, the inner voice that wants to keep her small. The voice that keeps telling her she can’t. She does not want to eliminate this voice, but rather investigate how she can use this voice in the right way and silence it at the right moments. As we entered the venue, Naïma was already on stage, nervously twitching, fidgeting and smiling self-consciously at members of the audience, the fourth wall dispensed with. Even when the performance proper started she was panicky, blurting out her name and some family history. Of course this was all an act, all part of the show. But when the dancing started all nervousness disappeared and the confident performer shone through.

It would have been odd if, in a city that is home to one of the world’s leading technical universities, there had not been a performance to reflect this. With Can We Feel Touch When We’re Made of Light? Pedro Latas does just that and, to emphasise the point, it is performed in Delft TU’s aptly named Robohouse. The concept is simple, the execution complex. Two figures, Julius and Emiel, stand facing each other, each with cables attached to sensors on various parts of their body. Between them is a two meter high curtain of thin white fabric which is wired up with tiny microphones. Mr Latas crouches on the floor behind the audience with an array of electronic gizmos controlling proceedings.  As the performance starts the two figures slowly approach the cotton barrier which separates them. They reach out and touch it and when they do so the microphones pick up and amplify the slightest sound. The more they move their hands the more complex the sounds as they respond to each other’s invisible touch. Finally they make physical contact as they embrace through slits in the fabric. But they never make visual or verbal contact – just like the so-called social media that dominates and conditions our lives. Their relationship is transitory and, as they release each other and step backwards, silence falls. It put me in mind of one of those science fiction movies where scientists send out radio signals into space hoping for a response from some distant civilisation at the far end of the universe.

The Festival is renowned, and quite rightly, for innovation, for discovering new theatre makers with original acts and giving them the space and time to develop. Even so, it’s nice to see something which is not new or experimental but is nevertheless deserving of its place in the event. The Loksias Quartet plays the mainstream repertoire and for an act performing classical music no venue could be more suitable than the home of classical Dutch pottery, the Royal Delft Factory. The quartet’s mini recital, entitled The Origins of a Revolution, took place between the dusty kilns and potters’ wheels surrounded by white, undecorated china. The programme consisted of Beethoven’s 1801 String Quartet Op.18 No. 1 and Anton von Webern’s Langsamer Satz of 1905. Both are early works which demonstrate the composers’ desire to break away from their earlier influences and establish their own voice. Really enjoyed it.

The Delft Fringe Festival continues until 12th June. More details and full programme here