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the pelican

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After the death of her husband, a mother (Marieke Heebink) comes back to her parents’ house to find her sickly son (Alwin Pulinckx), her daughter (Hélène Devos) and her son in law (Vanja Rukavina). The lounge where the father expired on the chaise-longue is still permeated with his presence. Long-suppressed fears resurface when an abandoned letter is found.

The pelican is a chamber play that uses simple means and a small ensemble. Its modesty in form in no way diminishes the intensity of the emotions. Strindberg wrote a taboo breaking family portrait about a mother’s suffocating influence on her family.

Susanne Kennedy: ‘Strindberg does not show us a mother pelican who sacrifices her own life to save her young, but a vampiric mother who keeps food from her children and stifles their growth. Neither daughter nor son seem capable of maturing: the daughter is barren, and the son is sick and destructive. The mother, feeding off her own offspring, purposely denies her children food and refuses to take on the traditional mother role. Depicting the mother as a monster and a culprit is the first taboo in Strindberg’s text. Another taboo is hunger. We can hardly imagine what real hunger is, now. And what does it mean to be hungry, even when there is food?The children in the play have food, and yet they are always starving. The food tastes bland – soup like water and roast chicken like dust. Now that they’re grown up, they still can’t get their nourishment. They are stuck in a reality where they can’t satiate themselves, a world of permanent scarcity. Why? The children are like sleepwalkers, trapped in their own reality from which they cannot get away.’

August Strindberg (1849-1912) was one of the people who paved the road to modern drama. After a period of naturalism during which he wrote pieces such as The Father and Miss Julie, he developed into a playwright, with texts in which the occult and the subconscious play a central theme. With To Damascus and, mainly, A Dream Play, he set the path for expressionism in which logical storylines and unity of space and time are abandoned in favour of a more free narration. Strindberg’s prologue in A Dream Play opened whole new worlds of theatre: ‘Anything can happen, everything is possible and probable. Time and place are void. Imagination weaves new patterns: a whole of memories, experiences, ideas, absurdities and improvisations. Characters double, multiply and desolve. But one consciousness holds everything together, that of the dreamer.’ In his works, perverse and detrimental marital relationships are central components.

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