A hapless duo look on as their theatrical triumph descends into a cruel comedy of errors
‘Teatro Olimpico was a dream, a dream that had to come true. I hope you understand.’ Here the dramatist at the centre of Kees ’t Hart’s tenth novel shares his tale of woe with a potential backer. His dream of staging a ground-breaking production at Italy’s most celebrated theatre lies in tatters.
Kees and Hein are two cutting-edge theatre-makers from The Hague. After the première of their ‘anti-Beckettian’ play about the 18th-century philosopher Rousseau, they are invited to bring it to the Palladian theatre in Vicenza. Without stopping to consider the practicalities, the partners plunge headlong into a foreign adventure and soon find themselves gasping for air.
First there’s the language barrier to contend with: Kees and Hein hardly speak a word of Italian. Then there’s the logistical headache of transferring their elaborate mise-en-scène to a 16th-century theatre. Next up, finances: the funds that were promised either evaporate or find their way into the wrong bank account. Last but not least there are the artistic hazards: Kees and Hein soon start to suspect that their Italian director is clinging to an alarmingly different set of dramaturgical dogmas. Who is this director anyway? Where is the money coming from? And who exactly is running the show at the Teatro Olimpico?
At times Teatro Olimpico conjures up associations with Kafka’s The Castle, except that Kees and Hein’s hapless attempts to grapple with Italian culture and officialdom are much funnier. Every time they take a step forward, the cast of characters intent on undermining their dream is extended. Everyone interferes with everything and everything that can go wrong does go wrong. As the artistic reincarnation of Laurel & Hardy, the duo – nave and arrogant in equal parts – stumble on towards their opening night, edging ever closer to bankruptcy. But as Kees writes in his report to his financial backer: ‘There was nothing to be done. It would be all right on the night. Vedremo! Nessun problema!’