Morality, the medieval equivalent of the art of education, seems to be making a modest comeback. Earlier this year, a modern version of the chivalric novel Sir Gawain and the green knight can be seen in the cinemas, now theater collective URLAND comes with a staging of the Middle Dutch play Elckerlijc. Both stories revolve around a character who has to answer for his actions and along the way encounters allegorical characters who assist him or threaten to lead him astray. Both film director David Lowery and URLAND try to bring the mysticism and elusiveness of a higher power to life in their adaptations.
In their staging of The Spyeghel of Salicheyt van Elckerlijc URLAND has largely chosen to keep the original text intact. The medieval dialect is difficult for modern ears to understand, and it is not surtitled. You get enough words to get the overall sense of the piece and the individual scenes (thanks in part to the clear acting of the actors), but the nuances in the dialogues are lost.
In this way the emphasis is placed on the musicality and the poetry of the text, and the ritual form of the staging is emphasized. Because of the exalted play of Phi Nguyen as God and Thomas Dudkiewicz as Death, we imagine ourselves from the start in a theatrical mass in which the insignificance of man in relation to his creator is central. Hendrik Walther’s dark lighting design and Jimi Zoet’s ominous soundscape further emphasize the sense of Old Testament fate.
The focus on mystery does ensure that the own, contemporary accents that the collective places in the story feel somewhat superficial. This Elckerlijc, who in the original story symbolizes every person who ends up with God at the end of his life, is explicitly a white man in this version – this becomes clear because at the end of the play the protagonist Marijn Alexander de Jong is only seen by actors. flanked which deviate from the norm in their appearance. For example, the company seems to want to establish a link between the word of God and a ‘woke movement’ that would have targeted the rule of the white man. This is potentially both an interesting and problematic premise, which remains underdeveloped because of its fidelity to the original text, which is difficult for modern ears to follow.