The performances in Amsterdam had already sold out and so I had to go to Rotterdam to see Johan Simons' production of Michel Houellebecq's novel Platform. Since I couldn't leave early from work, this meant eating a pasta salad and a bread roll on the train from Amsterdam to Rotterdam and stuffing myself with French fries from McDonald's on my way to the theatre. An appropriate start to the evening.
The performance opens with a ton of garbage, - some mattresses, plastic garden chairs, old clothes -, being dumped onto stage from on high. When the dust has settled the actors, wearing nothing but underwear, walk onto stage and plunge into the pile of garbage. They continue doing this throughout the performance, giving the performance an edge. There's a real sense of danger and I imagine occasionally some of the actors do get hurt. No realism, but reality, as Frank Castorf once said.
The actors are great and throughout the performance they maintain a high degree of intensity. At one point an actress, again wearing only a slip and a bra, sits down on a chair, her legs spread apart, looking intently at the audience. After a while she begins to tremble and shake, tears run down her cheeks, as she tells how, for a moment, she felt happy when a man thanked her after she had tortured him in an SM club.
The performance was good, the actors were great and I really liked the stage design. As a matter of fact some months ago I had toyed with the same idea, but I was still trying to figure out what kind of junk to throw on stage. And yet, as I type this, I wonder why I wasn't completely struck. For one thing, somehow it was all a bit too familiar and too obvious. Although I liked the stage design, it didn't really surprise me. I have seen those plastic garden chairs in countless productions by Frank Castorf and René Pollesch. What I liked about Johan Simons' adaptation of The Elementary Particles was that he had refrained from the obvious orgy of simulated sex and instead had opted for a very sparse production in which the actors carried all the drama.
Perhaps I should add that, as a novel, I preferred The Elementary Particles to Platform. In a way Johan Simons reveals the weakness of the text. Platform earned Houellebecq a reputation as one of today's most contemporary novelists. Published a few months before 9/11 and the Bali bombings, to which we may add, Madrid 11/3, London 7/7 and the riots in the Paris suburbs, it culminates in a terrorist attack on a sex tourist resort in Thailand. But at its core Platform is just a banal love story with a tragic ending, set against a contemporary décor of globalization, social unrest and the threat of terrorism. And since the cynical observations and asides that give Michel Houellebecq's novels an edge have been lost in the stage adaptation, what is left is just a postmodern romance.
Having said so I'm nonetheless glad I travelled all the way to Rotterdam to see the show. Johan Simons' production of Platform may not be great, but sometimes good is good enough.