Reviews Performance Published 28 June 2014

Next Day

Unicorn Theatre ⋄ 26th-28th June 2014

Children are the future.

Bojana Jankovic

Set in front of a gigantic image of a wasteland resembling Eastern European building blocks that kill hope in one blow, Next Day is a slow-burning, voyeuristic exploration of what children do when adults are not around. It comes from the French director Philippe Quesne and CAMPO, the Belgian centre with a penchant for commissioning performances with children but for adults – Gob Squad came to LIFT 2012 with one such piece, Before Your Very Eyes.

Quesne gathered 13 performers aged 8-11 and unleashed a world of theatrical possibilities on them. Dozens if not hundreds of foam blocks, neatly stacked up on one end of the stage, plus a whole lot of random props (from blow-up pools to plastic guns and a washing detergent box) perhaps indicate the presence of children’s imagination that can turn anything into something exciting, but these kids also have projectors, an array of musical instruments, lights of all sorts and the option of lifting everything and anything up into the air. They quickly turn the stage into a right old mess, as kids do, and in the process they live a day in a superhero school, preparing to save the world from aliens and nuclear weapons (which ever endangers the humans first) and practicing their orchestral repertoire.

The narrative, in true Quesne style, is not that linear or indeed clear. Next Day is made out of slow, rhythm-indifferent passages; it offers a structure as loose as that of kids’ made-up games. It’s also suitably coated in grim undertones. These kids are so exposed to this world of ours that they end up thinking about genetic mutations and pandemics, and playing not in green space but in barren land that’s replaced it. They still conjure odd group rituals, but now the strangeness comes from what they are exposed to in the outside world, rather than the limitless imagination unhindered by conventions of any kind. Next Day doesn’t push a moral down the audience’s throats but it does make a not too subtle suggestion that the adults are letting unspoiled minds suffer the influence of commodification and amorality. The young ones still promise to rebuild the world, after the inevitable catastrophe – but what values will they take with them? There’s a shadow of apocalypse looming over Next Day, but it’s an apocalypse foretold quite a few times before. The glitch is that the kids have always soaked up their environment and have always replicated them in games; a search would probably reveal quite a few adults who once upon a time played cold war escalation. It’s not that this world is the best of all the possible worlds; it’s just that it’s not uniquely the worst, though it’s certainly unfair and by far the most cynical of them all.

Quesne is an author led by discovery rather than invention, his work often attempting to close up radically on the observed rather than the invented. Here however he is closing up on a phenomenon that’s neither new nor unseen before, leaving Next Day to rely on imagery that only rarely steps into evocative territory. The performers, all of them musicians in the making, often take to their instruments after they are done fighting an imagined enemy or shooting commercials for bland products, emphasising another notion often called to action – that of art vs the horrors of reality. Finally, Quesne succeeds at retaining the atmosphere of naturalness and simplicity: his cast is relaxed and not showing off, giving the impression that this really is what they do day to day. Unfortunately, kids at play are not as mesmerising as the myth would have you believe. On and off stage, imaginary worlds are impermeable to the outsiders, and it’s perhaps wiser to either join in earnestly or leave things be, rather than fetishise the images of childhoods gone and childhoods present.


Bojana Jankovic

Bojana Jankovic is one half of There There, a company composed of two eastern European theatre directors who turned from theatre to performance only to repeatedly question their decision. Before shifting to collaborative projects, she worked as a director and dramaturg on both classics and contemporary texts. She also wrote for Teatron, a Belgrade theatre magazine. She has a soft spot for most things pop, is surprisingly good at maths for a thespian, and will get back to learning German any day now.

Next Day Show Info

Directed by Philippe Quesne

Cast includes Marthe Bollaert, Tijl De Bleecker, Mona De Broe, Sven Delbaer, Fons Dhaenens, Lisa Gythiel, Lars Nevejans, Flo Pauwels, Sien Tillmans, Camiel Vanden Eynde, Lizzi Van De Vyver, Ona-lisa Van Haver, Jaco Win Mei Van Robays




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