Edinburgh Fringe 2018
In this profoundly uncomfortable solo performance, playwright and actor Bastiaan Vandendriessche shares a dark, disturbing tale of his attraction to two children in his care during his tenure as a Sea Scout leader.
Performer Bastiaan Vandendriessche, dressed smartly in a white shirt and dark trousers, watches the audience enter the cavernous Bruford at Summerhall space. When we are assembled, he changes – back to us – into a blue robe, transforming into the character in front of our eyes. An oppressive intimacy has been created by allowing the audience to sit only on one side, very close to the desk where the narrator (his name is never given) controls the music on his laptop and the stool where he sits to tell his tale, made minimalist against the large, empty space behind him.
The narrator is handsome and charming. He vapes as he takes us all in. We are the children in his care at the Sea Scouts summer camp and he is our group leader. He berates us for our behaviour, telling us he doesn’t want to scold us but we have forced his hand. Then we are his audience again, and he begins his tale of dark initiation rituals, sexualised games and outright sexual abuse of children by scout leaders. It’s all just fun and games, though, he assures us – except for the public sexual interactions between the leaders and the children – he doesn’t approve of those either. His love and desire for two young girls in his group, Leda and Emma, is nothing like this dirty sexual exploitation, he tells us. It’s something much more elevated and beautiful and pure, he says without a trace of irony – he references Nabokov’s Lolita with its poetic descriptions of a man in love which are famously so beautiful and intoxicating that you can forget he is talking about a child.
And indeed, that is Vandendriessche’s aim – to create a character so charming and charismatic that we are drawn in to his moral ambiguity as he describes his erotic feelings towards and grooming of Leda and Emma. There is a mix of reactions in the audience around me – some laugh at his jokes, others sit tense with disapproval, and still others disengage from the earliest disturbing descriptions and look like they can’t wait for it to be over.
As an actor, Vandendriessche cannot be faulted – he creates a complex, flawed, believable character and is utterly committed to the dark story he is telling. He is so engaging that it is difficult not to be drawn into his tale. This is a daring show in that it invites the audience into the mind of a paedophile and never gives us any sort of release – there is no textual disapproval of or consequence for his actions or even any clarity as to whether any of this actually occurred in the world of the narrator or whether it is just his dark fantasy (either option being troubling). Vandendriessche is opening himself up to backlash from the audience -something I’m sure he has experienced although not in the show I saw. Even if the audience don’t say anything, performing in the midst of such seething animosity and discomfort must be a real challenge.
I can see what the show is trying to achieve and in some ways it is successful – mostly due to Vandendriessche’s performance. However, in an hour long Fringe show there isn’t the time to allow for the complex response of simultaneous sympathy and disgust one develops when reading Lolita which is required to truly provoke the depth of inquiry and personal reflection one would hope for from a performance with such a sensitive, troubling concept. De Fuut manages to provoke the disgust but doesn’t quite get there with the sympathy.
I can’t tell you whether to see this show as you may find it offensive, upsetting or just too uncomfortable. You might think it completely misses the point. But if you’re intrigued after reading this review, then head along and make up your own mind.