Playwright and actor Bastiaan Vandendriessche brings an edgy, discomforting one hour monologue to Sweet Werks on Middle Street this week as part of Brighton Fringe’s Dutch and Flemish Season. ‘De Fuut’ (‘The Grebe’), which won the Best International Award at the 2017 Amsterdam Fringe, is told from the point of view of a man in his flat, smoking cigarettes copiously and playing music through a beat-up old laptop on his dusty coffee table, as he breathlessly reveals his sexual feelings towards a couple of young teenagers. Right from the opening line there is an awkward tension between this confident performer and the small audience. In this regard it is a quintessential Fringe play – perfectly engineered for performance in a tiny room like this with absolutely no division between actor and spectator. It’s claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Vandendriessche exploits this tension gleefully, addressing his lines to members of the audience directly, stalking the front row and admonishing them, or inviting them to hold his hand before snatching it away.
It quickly becomes all too clear that he is in fact admonishing the characters in his own internal world – Leda and Emma, the pubescent objects of his obsession, whom he met whilst working as a leader in the Sea Scouts. He rattles boastfully though a list of the other sexual misdemeanours he witnessed during his time in the organisation, clearly inviting us to believe that his improper feelings towards Leda and Emma pale into insignificance against other, far worse misdeeds. In doing so he lays his own self-delusion bare. He couches his love in mysterious, romantic and chaste terms – yet as his phrasing lurches from gentle chatter into angry shouting, we sense his moral compass is shot, and his protestations of virtue can’t entirely be relied upon. Did he and his young charges really just kiss? Were they as in love with him as he says they were, and does that make it acceptable?
Vandendriessche is a tall, handsome man who looks a little bit like a young George Michael. His character is very charismatic, too, and some of his wittier lines are delivered with a certain twinkle. Are they supposed to be funny, and is it OK to laugh? A couple of audience members do, but most of us clearly don’t want to be seen cracking a smile about child abuse. Yet it’s this sweaty tension which gives the play its edge. Vandendriessche throws himself into this morally grim monologue with a frankly startling alacrity. As a glance into the tortured mind of a man trapped within the mesh of his own desires, it’s difficult to watch – yet at the same time it is compelling, and utterly impossible to turn away.
Sweet Werks 2, 15-17 Middle Street. May 25th 2018.
Returns tonight (Saturday) and Sunday 27th, 1600. Tickets here.