In Ontroerend Goed’s production For once and all we’re going to tell you who we are so shut up and listen, Nathalie Marie Verbeke and Charlotte De Bruyne showed audiences that just because they were teenagers it didn’t mean they had nothing to say about the world.
Both Verbeke and De Bruyne have since performed in the company’s party-fuelled Under the Influence, and now they’ve created their first piece as young theatre makers: XXXO performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s partially a testament to Belgium director Alexander Devriendt, who is committed to giving young people the space and time to develop their own voice within the cacophony of writers and artists who are creating work about young people without actually engaging them in the creative process. XXXO, whilst still young in its development, shows that when being mentored and gently pushed into creativity, you can begin to witness the start of something that makes your skin tingle. It’s the beginning of theatre making that, with time, will really give us a kick in the stomach.
Focusing on the nature of crying and the emotions associated with this as individuals, collected mourning and onscreen representations, performers Verbeke and De Bruyne sit behind laptops with their web cameras projected onto a back wall. Here they show us photos, dozens of photos of them crying (apparently they like taking photos of themselves when crying). Their emotions are spilled across the projection, and soon they’re playing scenes from movies at the point of tragedy. We see Rose clinging onto the driftwood as Jack disappears into the water in Titanic, a scene in the rain from The Notebook and numerous other lump-in-your-throat moments. Whilst this is projected Verbeke and De Bruyne enact their own version in front, reciting lines and in laugh-out-loud fashion we laugh at their enforced despair.
From movie scenes to TV shows, XXXO shows the wealth of sadness and tragedy that is thrown across popular culture, but where the piece glimmers like a rough diamond is in the setup of the performance. Sat behind their web cameras, Verbeke and De Bruyne hit upon a far greater message of despair than the falseness of ‘acting the emotion on camera’: the numerous times we’ve all sat watching YouTube clips and felt the tears swelling in our eyes. Whether it’s penguins losing their egg to the deadly temperatures of the ice or Paul Potts singing his emotion through opera, we’re all guilty of crying in front of screens. The carthasism of these acts seems to become fake within XXXO – the thin line between the truth in a tear and the unleash of emotion for no other reason than it’s what you’re meant to do.
XXXO is a piece on the brink of discovering our obsessions with crying behind closed doors and in front of computer screens, the performers in their red-eyed state delierving a work that is still rough around the edges but bursting with promise. You’ll laugh at their idiocy and feel that swelling in your tear ducts. A complex layered piece, and one to watch for the future – they might just surprise you.
**** 4/5 Stars
XXXO is playing at the Pleasance Courtyard until 26th August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets see the Pleasance Theatre website.