Niet alle Marokkanen zijn dieven / Les Marocains ne sont pas tous les voleurs

FR: 6,7,10,11,12 /05
NL: 16,17,18 /05

What is this fear of remaining stuck on the fringes? What do you do when you have a burning desire to break laws that you find unbearable? Where does ‘good’ stop and ‘evil’ begin?

With both professional and non-professional actors, Belgians and North Africans, writer and director Arne Sierens sets off in the steps of the famous Russian novel, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov, the tormented student who commits murder, becomes a young woman in this play – Fadilah, a rebellious thief. To counteract the cliché suggested in the title Not all Moroccans are Thieves, the founder of DAS Theater (Ghent) has constructed a plot with these actors that is part detective story, part philosophical and part mystical. It is set against the backdrop of a training room in a boxing club and the back room of a café where a billiard table has pride of place – where the sound of knocks can be heard in both.

De/Van/By: Arne Sierens

Acteurs/Actors: Zouzou Ben Chikha, Johan Dehollander, Didier De Neck, Aciha Lamarti, Ini Massez, An Miller, Dahlia Pessemiers, Mourade Zeguendi

Décor/Decor/Set design: Guido Vrolix

Compositeur/Componist/Composer: Dominique Pauwels

Eclairages/Lichtontwerp/Lighting design: Harry Cole

Assistance/Assistentie/Assistance: Hildegard De Vuyst, Larbi Cherkaoui

Costumes/Kostuums/Costumes: Pynoo

Photographie/Fotografie/Photograpy: Kurt Van der Elst

Directeur de production/Productieleiding/Production manager: Raf Peeters

Production/Productie/Production: HETPALEIS Antwerpen, DAS Theater Gent


Niet alle Marokkanen zijn dieven: Nieuwpoorttheater Gent, Rotterdam 2001 & Rotterdamse Schouwburg

Les Marocains ne sont pas tous des voleurs: Nieuwpoorttheater Gent, Rotterdam 2001 & Rotterdamse Schouwburg, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

Avec le soutien de/Met de steun van/Supported by: Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap, Provincies Antwerpen & Oost-Vlaanderen, Stad Antwerpen, Stad Gent, Nationale Loterij/Loterie Nationale

Présentation/Presentatie/Presentation: Gemeenschapscentrum De Kriekelaar, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

Back to top

However you look at it, whether clearly or obscurely, Fadilah could be the little sister of Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, or she could be Michel in film director Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket. The creator of Niet alle Marokkanen zijn dieven (Not all Moroccans are thieves), Arne Sierens, is currently staging it.

Yes, the title may be unimaginatively provocative but that is because, in Arne’s opinion, it is better to confront these clichés head on than to close your eyes to them. And no, it is not a play about Moroccans, but a play where both amateurs and professionals, Belgians and North Africans, come together to tell a strong dramatic story grafted onto reality. Yes, this story presents an updated version of the detective story in the Russian novel (1865) and the French film inspired by it (1959). The play revisits the moral issues that form the core of these ‘cult’ works: the desire for social justice, the limitations of freedom, the idea of impunity, the confused feelings of guilt, the urge for destruction, the refusal to be made to feel inferior, the fear of sensing that we do not exist, the want of anything better to do, the quest for greatness…

As is always the case with Arne, they have an idea as their starting point and then their work develops from there. “In Dostoyevsky, everything revolves around Raskolnikov’s conscience – he has murdered an old money-lender who exploits the destitute to get rich herself. He kills to eliminate this immoral person, but also to save his penniless sister from embarking upon a dreadful marriage in order to resolve her desperate financial situation. In Bresson’s work, Michel cultivates his theft of handbags and wallets into an art form, with a dexterity akin to grace. His choice of life is symptomatic of the gap in his morality and his anxieties. Both Raskolnikov and Michel are on a road to nowhere. They will be caught by the police and will find redemption in prison through the devotion of a loving woman who opens the eyes of each of them. I found the notion of theft interesting. Who can say they’ve never stolen anything? I’m not talking about professional theft, but the urge to take something belonging to someone else. When I was little I lived in a very working-class part of Ghent where there were lots of Moroccans. The stereotypical view that ‘all Moroccans are thieves’ came back to me. I thought it would be interesting to connect the points of the triangle: Dostoyevsky, Bresson and the perception of young Moroccans today. The drama would bring into play Raskolnikov, his lover Sonia, and the police superintendent who arrests him.”

The subject matter for the play surfaced slowly during a long process taking 5 months in which the real-life experiences of those involved directed the outcome. The first stage in it was crucial: putting together a strong team of actors. “Many more women than men came to the audition. So we turned Raskolnikov into a woman: Dahlia Pessemiers, half-Belgian, half-Moroccan, will play Fadilah. She’s a professional actress who does karate. Obviously the role of Sonia had to be taken by a man, Zouzou Ben Chika – a lute player – who we called Habib in the play, which is Arabic for ‘love’. Fadilah has two friends, Assia and Cynthia (Aciha Lamarti and Ini Massez). The policeman, Roland, will be played by Johan Dehollander, the first person to work with me on this new project. I also wanted to replicate the electricity you get in the training room of a boxing club, like the atmosphere you sometimes find in prisons. And then we needed a billiard room too – in documentaries about boxing there’s always a billiard table! Three other characters appear in this setting - the managers of the boxing club: Ramon (Didier De Neck, one of the founders of the French-speaking Théâtre de la Galafronie), and Bambi, his wife (An Miller), two professional actors we’d already worked with. Mourade Zeguendi is from Brussels. He will play Jamaal, a young boxer and Fadilah-Raskolnikov’s ‘protective brother’. We knew early on that the space would be a kind of box with a metallic floor and that the languages would blend together in it.”

And then the work began. The newly formed team started their research and gained inspiration from outside sources. They watched Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, shot with the young De Niro in the poor districts of Little Italy, then his latest feverish film, Bringing out the Dead, where Nicolas Cage is a night-shift ambulance man in the seediest parts of a New York haunted by anguish. There are discussions about the dark side of big cities. Then there was a funny and impassioned debate about the documentary by Mosco Boucault who spent months in Philadelphia with investigators from its crime squad in suburbs where the law of silence rules. “We also went out to find a real pickpocket who came to demonstrate the discrete techniques of his art. We invited investigators from the anti-theft squads in Ghent and Brussels to subject us to questioning according to the rules and to give us a taste of the psychology they use to get a confession. It was all very useful.”

“Of course, the States are the States and we were in Ghent and Brussels. With Alain Platel(Bernadetje, Allemaal Indiaan) and Johan Dehollander (Mijn Blackie), we’ve always liked to open up our theatre work to non-professionals. This has absolutely nothing to do with undertaking some kind of socio-cultural work in the community. Non-professionals bring with them the contents of their life, a source of experiences and perceptions that find their way into all aspects of the production. Of course people can say the title is over the top, but this very annoying stereotype of associating immigration with delinquency comes about from a real problem that no one ever dares tackle head on: why is there a break-down in education, why are these youngsters becoming damaged, why are these bruised generations having to wear their cultural differences like a defect? Of course perceptions of the world are sometimes different and, at the same time, there is always this obnoxious phenomenon of the ‘fall guy’. I don’t want to reduce the play to that level, but we are preoccupied by these moral questions. When I walk through Ghent with Mourade, people we pass – and it happens again and again – clasp their bags to them and cross the street when they see him. In the end you just want to cross the street to stop having to be subjected to it. If you want to avoid the glances that demean you, what alternative do you have but to withdraw? In the play, theft has become the symptom of a much deeper malaise – the fear of remaining stuck on the fringes, tearing yourself away from everything and everyone, remaining there, shrivelling up until you no longer exist. What is fate? How can love transform perdition into redemption?”

And all this in a colourful, dense, direct, working-class and slangy language. “Good theatre is about ‘images’ and its words have to create the sparks of images. I love the fact that the language of theatre can be derived from working-class speech, but my language has nothing to do with the ‘Ghent dialect’ as people often say it does. Admittedly it’s inspired by it, but it skirts round it at the same time. I have to sabotage anything that might sound like literature. On the streets, words are emphasised or transformed according to emotions and language is used like a weapon. In my plays, words have to fly out like splinters from a tree when its trunk is being sawn up.”

Not all Moroccans… is he taking the path of a philosophical play, a drama or a detective story? “I’m trying to introduce several genres into it and not choose any one of them. Of course philosophy runs right through it, but the play also has to be physical, vary in colour, bring out music, movement and a certain dream-like quality. There will certainly be a mystical dimension. I’d like it to read like a parable – terrifying and comical, sometimes stupid but extremely intelligent. At the end of a play like this, you should feel as if you’ve been north and south, east and west, that you’ve crossed through fire, water, air and earth… This is the dream we’re constructing.”

Back to top