Herman Heijermans on stage again

This video is the trailer of the play Beschuit met muisjes, as played by Dutch Toneelgroep Oostpool theatre company.

This is another video on that play by Oostpool.

On 3 January 2015, famous Dutch playwright Herman Heijermans was on stage in Leiden; more precisely, his play Beschuit met muisjes; as interpreted by theatre company Toneelgroep Oostpool.

They played this work with only minor abridgements in the original text. Director Joeri Vos said that the play is about what money does to relationships between people; still an important issue now in the 21st century economic crisis. Vos says that if William Shakespeare would have written this play, characters would have been killed. Heijermans’ characters stop just short of killing, though they sometimes seem to be close to it.

While many of Heijermans’ plays, like his famous The Good Hope, are about conflicts between capitalists and workers, some are about people in between these two classes. The Rising Sun is about a small shopkeeper’s family, crushed by a big department store. This is a bit similar to Heijermans’ own bad experiences in the rag trade, before he became an author. As a small businessman Heijermans got into debts, plaguing him until his death.

Somewhat similarly to The Rising Sun, Beschuit met muisjes, from 1910, is about a family owning a financially unsuccessful guesthouse. Somewhat similarly to Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, and the play based on that novel, and the song about the ‘sisters Karamazov’ by Dutch comedian Drs P, there is a conflict about money, about an inheritance.

Prosper Bien Aimé, the main character, is the guesthouse owner. The name is sarcastic: though not poor, he is not prosperous. The guesthouse does not get many guests; according to his mother-in-law, because of Prosper’s quarrelsome character and his daughter Félicité’s noisy music. Félicité, in the original play, keeps playing Ave Maria on the piano, winding everyone up. In the 2014 version she keeps playing on a modern keyboard, with the same effect. The name Bien Aimé means ‘well loved’ in French. Prosper is not well loved either, as he quarrels with all his relatives.

He has an elder brother, Gerrit, who suddenly turns up, from Melbourne in Australia, after 37 years. On the day of his arrival, Gerrit dies. It turns out he had lots of money; 100,000 guilders in the original play; two million guilders in Oostpool’s 2014 version, after a century of inflation. The Bien Aimé family thinks now their financial worries are over.

Then, it turns out that Gerrit married a woman, Pollie, a week before his death. So, she will probably inherit all of Gerrit’s money. Prosper and his family get livid, and thoroughly hate Pollie for this. Then, Pollie says there was a prenuptial agreement that she would not be Gerrit’s heir.

Later still, Charles, the disabled teenage son of Prosper, tells Pollie how much money Gerrit’s inheritance is. Then, Pollie tells, correctly, that she is pregnant and could use the money for when her and Gerrit’s child will be born.

Prosper Bien Aimé, contrary to Heijermans, is anti-socialist. He says, as an example of absurdity, that becoming a socialist would be as inconceivable for him as Polly’s unborn child inheriting Gerrit’s money.

Prosper Bien Aimé keeps up his hopes of becoming rich by thinking that an unborn child cannot inherit. However, his lawyer kills this hope.

The title of the play Beschuit met muisjes is from this prospect of a child being born. According to a Dutch custom, after childbirth, people are treated to eating beschuit met muisjes. They are rusk with anise seed sprinkles.

In the final scene, the conflict between Pollie and the Bien Aimé family gets so emotionally out of hand that Pollie miscarries. The Bien Aimé family, after the emotional seesaw throughout the play about whether or not they will become heirs, can feel relieved: there will be no beschuit met muisjes.

A difference with the play The Rising Sun is that only disabled teenage son Charles is a sympathetic character.

After the play, the audience gave the players a deserved standing ovation.

A critical review of the Oostpool performance is here.

Another critical review, of an abridged version by another theatre company, is here.

4 thoughts on “Herman Heijermans on stage again

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