CONVERSATIONS (at the end of the world)

What do you say, do or make when the end is nigh? In Conversations at the end of the world, a new piece by Kris Verdonck / A Two Dogs Company for large auditoria, five figures find themselves in an empty theatre space. They have only their bodies, their capabilities and the time that is left to them. Together these five figures, played by Johan Leysen, Jan Steen, Jeroen Van der Ven, José Kuijpers and the renowned pianist Marino Formenti, create a portrait of humankind in the crazy twentieth century – a century in which man’s image has been significantly eroded and whose wounds we still carry with us today. Waiting for the catastrophe that is inevitably coming, or in the midst of it, they welcome the audience to ‘a last evening’. When faced with death, the characters react with boredom, panic, madness, lethargy, nonsense and absurdity. Their absurdity is fed by the crazy logic of the war, ecological disasters, and all kinds of crises. Despite being in shock, they try to understand what is going on outside, and it is this absurd reaction to a cruel reality that lies behind this new project.
Verdonck’s performances can be divided up into three categories. 1- The moment right before the catastrophe: the person is still there, but is in a state of shock and confusion. These are often performances in which language still plays a role. 2 - The catastrophe itself: this tends to be expressed as installations in which the power and beauty of the destruction itself takes shape. 3 - After the catastrophe: a world where humans have disappeared and where plants, animals and objects have taken over. ‘Conversations’ undoubtedly falls into the first of these categories. Human beings of flesh and blood have spoken their last, and the characters on stage are acutely aware of their approaching end. True stories from the black boxes of air disasters display a number of striking characteristics. Those who are aware that their end is near are calm. They speak of beauty and are subdued. Conversations passed down from extermination camps are often very positive, intense memories for survivors.
Samuel Beckett’s dramaturgy is a permanent presence in Verdonck’s work. The endless discussions from ‘Waiting for Godot’ would certainly fit well in ‘Conversations’. The scripts for ‘Conversations’ comprise a collage of actual conversations and poetry from areas of war and disaster, testimonies of boredom in prisons, the words of prophets and philosophers who have gone crazy, the final pieces written by dying composers, etc. These are all types that resemble the figures of Francis Bacon: misshapen lumps of flesh in an abstract space. Waiting in a cage and certain of their impending disappearance.

Happiness amidst the ruins

In Heiner Müller’s adaptation of Brecht’s ‘Fatzer fragments’, a group of deserters is waiting for a revolution. They wait in the empty space as the war plays out around them and their situation grows ever more precarious. The same is true of the five figures in Conversations (at the end of the world.) Drawing inspiration from Daniil Charms’ absurdist and humorous reaction to his life being under threat, from texts by concentration camp prisoners about beauty, or from the diaries of an increasingly idiosyncratic Erik Satie, Conversations becomes a performance in which, despite – and precisely because of – everything, an effort is still made to do something. A play, a trick, a joke, a fragment of text, a dialogue, a piano piece, a dance or an illogical piece of reasoning is introduced with great enthusiasm and conviction. Even though the situation is hopeless, they still remain positive, as if the certainty of an ending paradoxically frees them from the yoke of rationalism and progress. They enter into a state of being where nonsense, madness and a strange beauty remain in the emptiness that lies ahead, and which is increasingly enveloping them. In the nothingness of the empty theatre space, their actions also say something about the nature of acting itself. Doing something in order not to do nothing, even though it no longer matters.

There are numerous short films on the internet that show tourists visiting shrinking glaciers. From their boat, they cry out in excitement when a piece of ice breaks off and plunges into the sea. Statements like ‘it’s coming’, or ‘look at the tsunami!’ lay bare the complexity of the relationship between mankind and destruction. A human being beholding a disaster is often excited, and it is therefore impossible to deny that the collapsing towers of 9/11 do in fact embody a kind of beauty. The figures in ‘Conversations’ find themselves in a similar situation. They are completely engrossed in the beauty of the approaching catastrophe.

The end of time

With IN VOID, Kris Verdonck previously created an installation circuit that contemplated a possible end to mankind. Whereas the machines in the installations offered an ‘answer’, in Conversations we see the reaction of the person himself when confronted with his own finiteness. As well as a concrete end to life itself, the sense of a ‘deadlock’ is also at play here, of a situation to which no end is in sight, or to which there is no answer. This too is a feeling of finiteness: when nothing changes any more. Our world today is increasingly filling itself with possible ends: wars and simmering conflicts; geopolitical tensions that are once again rearing their heads; terror rooted in phenomena to which society does not seem to be finding an answer; the exploitation and aggression of an economic system that we do not know how to tackle; and so on. Man’s disappearance from the world as we think we currently know it extends into the stage design for this production. The figures and the stage they are standing on gradually vanish under a covering of fine black snow. What remains is a landscape and the memory of what once was. Conversations (at the end of the world) sketches out five possible portraits of people in such situations. These are people who have moved beyond resignation, beyond hope, but who are happy to embrace nonsense, and are thus living in a condition where once again, a great deal becomes possible.
Concept and direction: Kris Verdonck
Dramaturgy: Kristof Van Baarle
Assistant dramaturgy: Charlotte De Somviele
Artistic advice: Piet Menu
Performers: Jan Steen, Johan Leysen, Jeroen Van Der Ven, Marino Formenti, José Kuijpers
Production: A Two Dogs Company, Het Zuidelijk Toneel 
Coproduction: Kaaitheater (BE), Rotterdamse Schouwburg (NL), Supported by the Fondation d'entreprise Hermès within the framework of the New Settings program (FR)
With the support of: European Commission: Imagine 2020 ‘Art & Climate Change’, Tax Shelter scheme of the Belgian Federal Government, the Flemish Authorities, the Flemish Community Commission

  • 2017
NL Rotterdam Rotterdamse Schouwburg
19 > 20/09
NL Tilburg Theaters Tilburg
NL Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam
29 > 30/09
BE Brussels Kaaitheater
BE Brugge Cultuurcentrum Brugge
NL Heerlen Parkstad Limburg Theaters
NL Utrecht Stadsschouwburg Utrecht
18 > 20/10
FR Paris Théâtre de la Cité
NL Den Haag Het Nationale Theater
NL Breda Chassé Theater
NL Eindhoven Parktheater Eindhoven
BE Kortrijk Schouwburg Kortrijk
  • - © Mauriki