Theatre thriller about a society spinning out of control
Due to its great success, the thriller The Nation is returning to the theatre. The six-part theatre marathon about a mysterious disappearance was written like a Netflix series for the stage: current, witty and full of nerve-racking cliff hangers.
Festival Holland Festival
Run time 300 minutes
Eleven-year-old Ismael from the Schilderswijk district in The Hague has vanished without a trace. His disappearance sets the stage for a feverish quest through all layers of society spinning out of control. Along the way we encounter police officers, jihadists, entrepreneurs, politicians, journalists and social workers, each with their own personal interests.
After The Nation (parts 1 to 3) premiered at the Holland Festival in 2017, writer and director Eric de Vroedt added another three episodes, making it a five-hour piece about representation and identity. The leading roles are played by Mark Rietman, Romana Vrede and Vanja Rukavina. NRC called the piece the ‘theatre event of the year.’ This marathon performance will be featured in its entirety for the first time at the 2022 Holland Festival and is still painfully relevant.
‘Binge watching' at the theatre
The Nation is no ordinary theatre piece but a marathon theatre thriller. In six episodes, the search for the boy leads through all layers of society, from police officers and politicians to journalists and social workers. Spurred on by sensationalist media, whole swaths of the population and family members find themselves at odds as Salafist flags are flown in the neighbourhood and high-ranking officials look out for themselves. And while everyone becomes increasingly entrenched in their positions and continues to attack the others, one question recedes to the background: where is Ismael?
Ode to The Hague
In order to make The Nation, writer and director De Vroedt trailed along with local beat officers at The Hague Market and with students at a school in The Hague. He also incorporated various topical themes, such as threats against public figures, hypocritical politicians, concerning privacy issues and shady construction projects. De Vroedt: ‘The Nation is a nerve-racking rollercoaster that starts in the fascinating Schilderswijk district and ends in the fictional hi-tech security enclave Safe City. It is my ode to The Hague and a disconcerting account of the ongoing trench war society is currently caught up in.’
Still painfully relevant five years later
While The Nation premiered five years ago, the story continues to be painfully relevant. De Vroedt has taken a close look at particular developments in society and ‘sampled’ these on stage. Examples of this include the growing mistrust of government, a police force accused of racism and brutality, citizens taking the law into their own hands and a government working on hi-tech surveillance technology behind the scenes.
And the underlying theme still stands as well: how do we see the other, and what image of ourselves do we present in different social contexts? Are we still able to see the other as an individual or do we only see him or her as a stereotype: the radicalising Islamist, the bleeding heart lefty, the amoral entrepreneur. How hard are we trying to look beyond the other’s mask, and when do we dare drop our own masks?
-|- In the constant struggle to determine, protect or fight for our own identity, we easily lose sight of what it is actually about. An eleven-year-old child has disappeared, but where you might have expected a large joint search operation, we mainly see out -of-control individuals trying to present an image of themselves in response to this tragedy.
‘Do you enjoy theatre? Then go see The Nation. Do you not like theatre? Then go see The Nation.’ - Trouw
The piece received glowing reviews and reactions, not in the least because of the strong acting by Mark Rietman as the policeman who saw Ismael last and Romana Vrede as the missing boy’s mother. Vanja Rukavina won the Arlecchino for his portrayal of Ishmael's half-brother Damir. The successful concept also went international with productions in Germany, Sweden and even Brazil.
Awarded the Toneelschrijfprijs
De Vroedt won the prestigious Toneelschrijfprijs in 2018. From the jury report: ‘It’s impressive how Eric de Vroedt’s The Nation uses social divides, political discourse, flashy news items, religious dogmas and personal fears as raw material for a five-hour piece. Everything you read about in the news is incorporated in this kaleidoscopic text.’
May 2018. In the Schilderswijk district in The Hague, eleven-year-old Ismael Ahmedovic is arrested for throwing a stone through the window of a halal wine bar that is being set up for the emancipation of Muslim women. The wine bar is an initiative of Ismael’s biological mother, Mariam Traoré. The bar encounters fierce opposition in the neighbourhood, and Mariam receives anonymous death threats by post. Detective Mark van Ommeren and policewoman Ludmilla Bratusek investigate whether anything went wrong during Ismael’s interrogation by police motorcyclist David Wilzen. And what is the role of Ismael’s half-brother Damir, the young Salafist in charge of the Neighbourhood Watch Team?
Politician Wouter Wolff is a guest on the talk show Kuypers. He is a member of the Toorenburg parliamentary commission looking into the failed merger of the National Police. During the show, Wolff clashes with project developer Sjoerd van der Poot, the driving force behind Safe City. Then Ismael’s disappearance is discussed. Both Mariam and Ismael and Damir’s foster parents, Alexander and Ida Aschenbach, speak. Mariam presents a theory of the ‘sacrificial son’ and is supported by John Landschot of the New Dutch Front. Their theory is based on jihadist Sifin Min Zawaytirmir’s call in an internet pamphlet for children to be sacrificed, following the example set by Ibrahim.
As part of a deradicalisation programme, Damir talks to therapist Hester Keursma about his relationship with his father, Adem Ahmedovic. Van Ommeren and Bratusek investigate the threatening letters Mariam has received. Ida and Alexander Aschenbach also press Mariam for more information about the letters. While Wouter Wolff prepares an important speech with his spin doctor and lover Stijn Baver, a vlogger called De Beer van ’s-Gravenhage (‘The Hague Bear’) bombards him with allegations online. -|-
At the Binnenhof, where the Dutch parliament sits, the expansion of the parliamentary inquiry into the National Police is on the agenda. Wouter Wolff believes he has evidence in support of him accusing Sjoerd van der Poot of corruption while also linking Safe City to Ismael going missing. Party member Sadik Babacan struggles with the question whether Wouter is the right person at this moment to sit on this commission of inquiry chaired by Tineke Toorenburg. Though the police had insufficient evidence to detain Wolff any longer, public opinion has already turned against him. To make matters worse, a vlog surfaces and causes irreparable damage during Van der Poot’s first public hearing.
Tropical rainfall plagues the city. Wouter Wolff believes he has found the needed ammunition to accuse Sjoerd van der Poot of involvement with Ismael’s disappearance. He forces a confession from Van der Poot in his own home. Sjoerd van der Poot gets help from unexpected quarters. Alexander Aschenbach, an old friend from university of both Wolff and Van der Poot, puts the relationship between the two men on edge.
Two weeks after Ismael Ahmedovic has gone missing, his family members come together. Mother Mariam and his foster parents Ida and Alexander Aschenbach are there, but father Adem Ahmedovic has returned from Bosnia as well. How are the relations between these people after all the events of the past fourteen days? And what is going on at Schiphol, where an anti-terror unit holds Damir at gunpoint?
concept Eric de Vroedt vlog texts Joeri Vos, Saman Amini direction children Abdel Daoudi set design Maze de Boer costumes Lotte Goos music Remco de Jong, Florentijn Boddendijk lights Bernie van Velzen cast Bram Coopmans, Tamar van den Dop, Alexander Elmecky, Hein van der Heijden, Antoinette Jelgersma, Fjodor Jozefzoon, Yela de Koning, Mark Rietman, Vanja Rukavina, Pieter van der Sman, Romana Vrede production Het Nationale Theater coproduction Het Nationale Theater, Holland Festival text Eric de Vroedt direction assistance Abdel Daoudi video Bernie van Velzen direction Eric de Vroedt
About Holland Festival
Holland Festival is the largest international performing arts festival of the Netherlands and one of the oldest festivals of Europe. The festival was established in 1947 and will celebrate its 75-year anniversary in 2022.
It takes places every year, In June, in and around Amsterdam, at various locations, both indoors and outdoors, both large-scale and intimate, both online and offline.