The artist as social critic: this is the perspective around which the 76th Holland Festival appears to be organised. Audiences are invited to journey into a series of ‘alternative worlds’ which make use of such techniques as poetic-dance (see Lucas Avendaño’s Leminskata) and virtual-reality (see Susanne Kennedy’s Angela) in order to examine the central crises of contemporary life.
But contemporary life can only be understood in relation to the past. This was illustrated by a fascinating moment in yesterday’s press conference when the British artist Anohni explained, through a pre-recorded video, how she had been enlisted by the festival to produce a presentation about Gerrit Van der Veenstraat – ‘the road on which I lived in 1978, when I was seven years old. And I often describe that year as the year that my life turned from black and white to colour.’ Yet this street – remembered by Anohni as a place of unimaginable freedom and opportunity – had, several decades earlier, also been the site of the Amsterdam headquarters for the Sicherheitsdienst (the Nazi Secret Police). Upon recently learning the history of Gerrit Van der Veenstraat, Anohni said: ‘this feeling that I had of paradise was shockingly contextualised within a deeper landscape of tremendous violence and trauma.’ There are corpses buried beneath the flowerbed. What Anohni aims to do with her presentation is to ‘gently hold space for both of those and many other realities that surely have breathed in that city block.’
This interplay between past and present is indispensable to Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, a stage adaptation of which will also feature in the upcoming festival. You’d assume that Brideshead Revisited, with its masterful humour and deathless, incandescent dialogue, would be a dream to adapt; but the film made of it in 2008 was dire – not so much a misinterpretation as a deformation of the source material. And while everyone adores the 1981 Granada TV series, it’s worth noting that this effort basically amounted to a page-by-page reconstruction of the novel. A theatre adaptation will be impelled to reduce Waugh’s narrative, meaning the unfortunate but unavoidable exclusion of certain elements. I am intrigued to see how the conservatism of Brideshead Revisited is managed in comparison to the radical flavour promised by many of the festival’s other works. Jacob John Shale 15th March 2023