Het Bewijs & The Notebook

Different locations in the city

Het Bewijs
Kaaistudio's
19, 22, 23, 25 Mei/Mai/May 20:30
Duur/Durée/Duration: 1:30
Taal/Langue/Language: Nederlands/néerlandais/Dutch
Simultaanvertaling/Traduction simultanée/Simultaneous translation: Fr


The Notebook
Theatre Les Tanneurs
20, 21 Mei/Mai/May 20:30
Duur/Durée/Duration: 1:40
Taal/Langue/Language: Engels/anglais/English
Simultaanvertaling/Traduction simultanée/Simultaneous translation: Nl & Fr
Première Engelse versie/Première version anglaise/Première English version

In 1998, De Onderneming staged Het Dikke Schrift (The Notebook) by Hungarian writer Agota Kristof. It was not until forty years after being torn from her roots that, in the language of her country of exile, she wrote a novel about her experience. During the horrors of war, a pair of twins, united as one, wrote down in a notebook the rigorous exercises they put into practice to keep their suffering in check and to express their sentiments. They were children - touching and frightening. In the KunstenFESTIVALdes Arts 2000, De Onderneming is restaging this theatrical gem in English. At the same time the group has created a single play out of the second and third parts of this trilogy of the twins. In La Preuve (The Proof) and Troisième Mensonge (The Third Lie) Agota Kristof exposes with the same sobriety the tangled tale of the separated children, searching as adults for the other part of themselves and their memories.

Het Bewijs

Tekst/Texte/Text: Agota Kristof, La Preuve & Le Troisième Mensonge
Spel en bewerking/Jeu et adaptation/Acting and adaptation: Robby Cleiren, Günther Lesage, Ryszard Turbiasz, Carly Wijs
Dekor en licht/Décor et éclairage/Set design and lighting: Stef Stessel
Kostuums/Costumes: Charlotte Willems
Techniek/Technique/Techniques: Richard Kerkhofs
Productie/Production: De Onderneming (Antwerpen)
Coproductie/Coproduction: KunstenFESTIVALdesArts
Met dank aan/Remerciements à/Special thanks to: Kaaitheater (Brussel/Bruxelles) Presentatie/Présentation/Presentation: KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

The Notebook

Tekst/Texte/Text: Agota Kristof, Le Grand Cahier
Spel en bewerking/Jeu et adaptation/Acting and adaptation: Robby Cleiren, Günther Lesage, Ryszard Turbiasz, Carly Wijs
Kostuums/Costumes: Charlotte Willems
Techniek/Technique/Techniques: Richard Kerkhofs
Productie/Production: De Onderneming (Antwerpen)
Presentatie/Présentation/Presentation: Théâtre les Tanneurs, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

De Onderneming geniet de steun van/bénéficie du soutien de/is supported by: De Vlaamse Gemeenschap.

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I try to write true accounts but, at a given point, the account becomes unbearable because of its very truth so I have to change it. I try to tell my own story, but I can't, I haven't the strength to do it, it makes me ill. So I embellish everything and describe things not as they happened but as I would have like them to have happened.

(Lucas' confession in Le Troisième Mensonge, by Agota Kristof. Ed. du Seuil, 1988.)


A mother and her journalist husband want to protect their children from the war so they leave the twins in a border village with their grandmother who is witch-like, harsh and reclusive. United as one, they grow up there, left to their own devices and establishing an iron discipline for simple everyday activities. Forcing themselves to carry out a number of exercises methodically to numb themselves, they achieve a total control of their emotions, no longer distinguishing between good and evil. Strengthened by their extreme objectivity, they cope with the atrocities around them without suffering at all. Feelings can no longer alter their clinical and implacable perception of reality. In a style of cruel, childlike simplicity, they enter every detail of their existence in a big exercise book - the Grand Cahier.

This is Agota Kristof's first novel. Born in Hungary in 1935, she fled to Switzerland in 1956 when Russian tanks came to crush the Hungarian revolution. Forty years later, shut off in her small flat in Neuchâtel, the novelist wrote the first part of her ‘trilogy of twins' in French and was awarded a prize by the Association des Ecrivains de Langue Française - the association of writers in the French language.

In 1998, Ryszard Turbiaz and Gunther Lesage's De Onderneming, together with Carly Wijs and Robby Cleiren (De Roovers), performed an exhilarating adaptation of it. Giving it a disarmingly simple theatrical style, they provided the sobriety, harshness and terrible naivety of the novel with incredibly intelligent theatre. Their Dikke Schrift is a bittersweet, piercing jewel of a play laden with surprises. It is a feast of acting. At the demand of the KunstenFESTIVALdesArts the actors also stage an English version of this play: The Notebook (with simultaneous translations into Dutch and French).

On a bare stage, the inseparable twins, Claus and Lucas (Robby and Gunther), deliver the account of their experiences of a devastated world with surprising detachment. Combining the fragility of childhood with an alarming maturity, they wear plain singlets and white shorts. The adults briefly portrayed - grandmother, priest, German soldier, Jewish cobbler - are played by the same actor (Ryszard), while the actress (Carly) mostly plays the bookseller. The obsession for traces left behind is already apparent because, in Agota Kristof's novels, writing is more beautiful than living. Nothing, especially not people, reveals more truth than what is written in ink on paper.

"Working on Le Grand Cahier, it seemed increasingly obvious to us that we were going to perform the sequels, La Preuve and Le Troisième Mensonge. Their adaptation for theatre enabled us to explore the underlying account of the real story - or its metaphor - of the twins. It let us enter their increasing mystery and develop the impressive image of this innocent and wounded game between truth and falsification, being and wishing to be, identity and the loss of it, the desire for autonomy and extreme loneliness."

In Le Grand Cahier, the young twins' account follows a coherent narrative structure. It ends with the brothers' separation - they send their father to tread on a mine, allowing one of them following to reach the other side of the barbed wire. In La Preuve, the war is over and the liberating army now occupies the country. Hinted at, but not stated, the dark years of Stalinism show through. Lucas, an adult now, has remained alone. He cannot find meaning in his life to replace the huge void that is the absence of his twin brother. The only people he cares about go missing, either ending up far away, arrested or committing suicide. The border opens up and Claus comes back to find his brother, but Lucas has disappeared without trace. The only evidence of their distinct identities and fraternal link is the exercise book, written by both of them during their childhood years. But the proof evaporates when it is examined by the police because handwriting tests show that it was written by one person with the same ink. Le Troisième Mensonge further complicates the element of twinship in the story. Lucas reappears, sick and in prison, calling himself Claus. Filled with dreams and nightmares, he has devoted himself to the frantic search for his brother. Now a writer, the real Claus publishes under the pseudonym of Klaus Lucas. In a brief, final meeting he wittingly refuses to recognise his twin. With one last lie, Claus shatters Lucas's quest.

"These two novels by Agota Kristof confuse the events of the first one, one memory refutes another, overturned itself by a new version of the facts. You could read the metaphor of her own exile into it, as much a geographical exile as an internal one. It's as if the story of the twins betrays her own feelings of being torn away from her own environment, having to live in a new place, when her whole being aspires to being back there, cultivating her memory of it, transforming it with distance. As time passes, a page is turned and another replaces it. When you go back, are you still the same person? Are the other people you thought about so much still the same?"

"Books occupy a central symbolic place in these three novels. Maybe it's the common theme in this double sequel and their contradictory accounts. You can imagine that each book is the reflection of a person for Agota Kristof. Destroy the book and you smash the mirror of a life. When we performed Le Grand Cahier on stage, we emphasised its terrifying simplicity. We adapt La Preuve and Le Troisième Mensonge into a single performance, Het Bewijs and attempt to preserve their mystery, bringing out some of the themes to immerse the public in the unclear and gripping schizophrenia of the two novels. The books explain and judge nothing. Rather they push the limits of the reader's credulity and suddenly open the reader's eyes, then mislead him, before making him consider in depth where the roots lie of these lives torn from their truth."

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