I don't think it would take fellow Belgian Hercule Poirot to deduce that Ontroerend Goed’s brilliant new show ‘Are we not drawn onward to new erA’ is palindromic. If the title didn’t give it away, then the official description just spells it out. So trust me, it’s not a spoiler to tell you that the whole thing switches into reverse at the mid-point.
In fact, it’s probably essential you’re aware of this fact lest you be left wondering what the hell the storied company is on during the first half, in which the six-strong cast destroy a tree, strew the stage with plastic bags, and assemble a creepy gold statue, all the while moving around in unnaturally jerky fashion, while speaking a series of completely indecipherable words.
What I’m not going to spoil is the nature of the reverse and how it plays out. The litter and the tree destruction will tip you off to the fact that Alexander Devriendt’s production is one of the glut of eco-plays at the Fringe this year, so clearly the play will end with the destruction somehow being unwrought. The means by which this is accomplished is obvious in retrospect, but at the time it’s startling, and brilliant.
It is a show about the idea that we have gone past the point of ecological no return, and in its second half it teases out the absurdities of believing we can start again. But it also offers a poignant, fantastical vision of just that.
And it is a remarkable technical accomplishment: particular praise must surely go to scenographer Philip Aguirre, but everyone deserves a share – not least the cast, who do a pretty staggering job of working with such weird, precise material. It is poignant – depressing even – but there’s a genuine joy in its audacity, as the meaning behind much of the cast’s baffling behaviour in the first half is revealed as the story reverses.
Not so long ago Ontroerend Goed had a reputation for gratuitous provocation that sometimes obscured the more serious message of their work. But like 2016’s beautiful ‘World Without Us’, this is a serious and powerful piece of theatre about the future of our species, that uses the company’s boundless inventiveness to sear its message into your soul.