German theatre website Nachtkritik asked me to write an article on the ‘Theatrical Landscape of the Netherlands’, for their bilingual event website for the Spieltriebe Festival in Osnabrück. I wrote it in English, a German translation is available under the magnificent title Wo kein Drama ist, ist auch kein Zynismus. Many thanks to Terry Ezra for proofreading.
If you want to get to know Dutch theatre, where would you start? You would probably have a natural inclination – especially if you are from a German-speaking region – to ask about writers and plays. Texts, after all, transcend the fleeting nature of theatre, can easily be read and translated and in that way bridge cultures and eras. However, if you try that approach with Dutch theatre, you would find yourself stuck with a very limited supply and worse, miss most of what is characteristic and exciting about the contemporary Dutch theatre scene.
The Dutch have never been great playwrights. We have Vondel (17th century, classic drama) and Heijermans (early 20th century, social realism) who are both acknowledged as national treasures (albeit reluctantly – the Dutch tend not to dwell on their cultural past), but their plays are rarely performed. Most of the time we have picked up the best of French, German and English developments because of our international orientation. Racine, Schiller, Shakespeare, Euripides, Ibsen and Chekhov are far more popular than any Dutch playwright could ever be.