Review Mephisto 97.6

 ‘A brilliant jam session.’


on Mephisto 97.6, 11 November 2017


To the rhythm of our times

Why not perform in a lorry for once? That’s what the Belgian company Post uit Hessdalen thought, before going out and doing just that. They’ll be parked up at Euro-scene until Sunday.

The claustrophobic performance space in the lorry is daring – and incredibly thrilling!”

Interesting location

Halfway between Gottschedstraat and Westplatz, some 400 metres from the theatre, you no longer expect there to be much culture. However in the car park of the PWC building, a miniature theatre is parked up for a few days. This is where Post uit Hessdalen is performing its current project, PAKMAN, as part of the Euro-scene festival.

The lorry, which serves as a mobile stage, has a circus-like allure. So it comes as no great surprise when inside it, Pakman begins to juggle.

Endless packages

As you enter, you wonder how all the spectators are going to fit in. It soon proves to be a tight squeeze, because the stage takes up around half of the available space. In the middle, the stage is shielded from the audience by a Plexiglas wall with a small hatch in it. Against this wall the packages are piling up. While you are filing in, these immediately become relevant when, in his role as a postal worker, the juggler Stijn Grupping starts stamping the packages and rolling them into the spectators’ section on a conveyer belt through the hole in the Plexiglas wall. Within a few seconds, the audience has grasped what is going on: it is from here that our seats for the next few minutes are rolling their way in. The people who came in first form a human chain and start to distribute the packages across the floor. This is a smart move, because with this system the spectators are involved in the process of the staging right from the start. Audience members are immediately standing at the conveyor belt, even before everyone has entered the lorry. This is the very theme that PAKMAN seeks to examine: the rhythm of work, and how it influences our sense of time.

Faster than the eye can see

Once the audience has quietened down, the conveyor belt is pushed to one side and used as a spatial element for Grupping’s unbelievable juggling skills. I have seen some impressive jugglers in my time, but he surpasses them all in this almost claustrophobic container! Not only does Grupping work with walls, floor and ceiling; but even the underside of the conveyor belt is integrated into the complex journey of the bouncing balls at a variety of different angles. Time and time again, there are spontaneous bursts of applause for his artful throws, especially when they reach a breathtaking speed. The lorry thus proves to be an ideal sounding board, on which the balls echo like sledgehammers on a gigantic drum. Very faintly, real drumbeats also start to sound, as in the background Jochem Baelus is sitting at his drum kit, concealed behind a wall of packages.

Humour and harmony

Aside from its impressive artistry, one of the best things about PAKMAN is its charmingly dry humour. At regular intervals, the work rhythm is interrupted by amusing lunch breaks, with the halted conveyor belt serving as the table for a meal washed down with tea from a flask. The lighting in the stage section changes for this. In these scenes, Baelus appears and both performers make a small slapstick contribution in the classic clowning tradition. No words are exchanged for this: body language is more than enough to get both young and old laughing fulsomely. After this “break”, Baelus is openly visible with his drum kit and he accompanies Grupping more loudly and independently than before. At this point the piece morphs into a brilliant jam session.

Worldly wisdom… for children?

It is perhaps its circus elements that have led to PAKMAN being billed as a piece for children. In any case, there is a depth to this performance that very young spectators will barely be able to comprehend. Ultimately, an insight into the everyday work routine and the resulting monotony can only come about when the world is no longer new and exciting. For adults, the piece therefore has an almost dystopian ring to it. But perhaps we should be entrusting more to the young spectator. In that case the message of the piece, delivered with a wagging finger, would be “Preserve the dynamism of your childhood, and do not allow the diversity and peculiarity of your perception of time to be taken away from you!” – that precious sense that distinguishes humans from machines. Regardless of the spectator’s age, PAKMAN offers so much more than you might expect from half an hour in the back of a lorry.