Shakespeare has been a controversial artist for over 400 years. Sometimes he is the greatest ever, other times he is dismissed as an anti-Semitic misogynist who especially got a kick out of conceiving violent scenes. That’s what Billy’s Violence covered extensively. In the eighteenth century, people detested the violence and dark twists in his tragedies. Consequently, these were shamelessly rewritten. Romeo and Juliet lived happily ever after! This inspired Needcompany to ask Victor Afung Lauwers to read the comedies and see what they can still mean in our time – a time of great controversies, vulgar polemics, cancel culture, structural racism, climate change, war. What is there left to laugh at? Is humour the coward’s weapon or a form of activism?
“Following Billy’s Violence, which dealt with tragedies, I was asked to write a comedy based on Shakespeare’s comedies. I wanted to write about ‘reconciliation’. It is a central theme in the comedies. But reconciliation proved impossible without love! So, I pulled Romeo, that ‘star-cross’d lover’, out of his tragic story and brought him to the place of our comedy: Fairyland. Fairyland, however, turns out to be torn apart and ravaged by fragmentation. Having arrived, Romeo loses his language. Henceforth, he speaks hybrid English, or ‘Globish’. He goes in search of his beloved JULIET. But JULIET has been expelled from the Symbolic Order, from the edifice of narrative itself! Still, Romeo wants to fulfil his narrative destiny by turning himself aside: he wants to turn himself aside to overcome that which separates him from JULIET in death (primarily political divisions and global warming). But… Romeo cannot kill himself because he is in a comedy! Naked and isolated, Romeo must keep looking for love until someone ends him… That someone is Bolingbroke, later Henry IV from the King’s Dramas. Romeo becomes Richard II and they share each other’s fate: Romeo, lovingly disowned, and Richard, lovelessly deposed.
Billy’s Joy: a liquid comedy, a ‘HYSTORY’, a battle of attrition. Something is rotten in Fairyland!”
– Victor Afung Lauwers
Needcompany is an artistic collective founded by the artists Jan Lauwers and Grace Ellen Barkey in 1986. Maarten Seghers has been a member of Needcompany since 2001. Lauwers, Barkey and Seghers form the core of the group. Their artistic work consists of theatre and dance shows, performances, visual and writing projects. They appear in the most important artistic centres in Belgium and abroad.
Needcompany attracts to itself international, multi-lingual and inter-disciplinary groups of creatives. This variety mirrors the constitution of the team, in which there are usually at least seven nationalities represented. After years of work within the framework of Needcompany, there have emerged many artistic groups, including Lemm & Barkey (Grace Ellen Barkey and Lot Lemm) and OHNO COOPERATION (Elke Janssens, Maarten Seghers, Jan Lauwers).
Needcompany concentrates on an individual artist and his/her creative process. Fundamental values in the work of the group are authenticity, necessity and meaning. The medium in itself is constantly questioned, and the artists pay a great deal of attention to checking the relations between content and the form which it takes on. Needcompany believes in quality, innovation and cooperation. The team has for many years been a leading voice in the international debate on the subject of the fundamental meaning of beauty and art in social life.
Text Victor Afung Lauwers
Music Maarten Seghers
Jan Lauwers, Grace Ellen Barkey, Emily Hehl, Nao Albet, Gonzalo Cunill, Romy Louise Lauwers, Juan Navarro, Maarten Seghers, Meron Verbelen, Martha Gardner, Elke Janssens
Koen De Saeger, Raphael Noel, Jérémy Michel, Ditten Lerooij, Sharlotta Seeligmüller, Leander Schönweger
A Needcompany Production
Coproduction ImpulsTanz (Vienna), Perpodium (Antwerp), Le Quartz (Brest), Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre (Gdansk),Teatro Central (Sevilla), Teatro Español y Naves del Español en Matadero (Madrid), CC Brugge (Bruges)
With the support of the Flemish authorities, Flemish Community Commission (VGC) and the Belgian Federal Government’s Tax Shelter via Cronos Invest
Pieter D’Hooghe, Rune Floryn, Vibe Stalpaert
World première – 11 July 2023, Akademietheater, ImPulsTanz, Vienna
Language – English, Catalan and Spanish with Polish subtitles