In this intimate and unnerving performance, Bastiaan Vandendriessche performs his own monologue, playing the part of a scout leader with paedophilic desires. The character is disconcertingly matter-of-fact and at times gleeful, without a hint of contrition or even awareness that his beliefs and behaviours may be controversial. We, the audience, seem to play several roles; at times we are his confidantes, at others we are the young scouts under his ‘care’. The experience of viewing the show is rendered even more disconcerting by the performer’s very close proximity to the audience. In this venue it is set in a large hall, which serves as a cavernous backdrop to a very intimate performance. He also maintains near-constant eye contact with his audience, flitting between us, sometimes lingering to deliver a short paragraph whilst staring, unblinking, into one person’s eyes. At times he also asks questions and invites responses, really playing our sense of who we are meant to be and if replying is appropriate.
He describes fantasies of a holiday with two young girls, and recollects grooming games with the scouts. Without going into details, he mentions ‘tactical deep kissing’; a night game that requires a girl to take the morning after pill, for which she receives 20 points; and totemic initiation rituals. Some of his adult colleagues also have similar inclinations, suggesting such abuse may be rife in the scouting community. Very rarely does he describe specific sexual acts, indeed, he claims never to have acted on his desires. He also describes the children with a degree of affection. Nonetheless, these creepily candid confessions, when combined with the proximity of his presence, are liable to make this an uncomfortable encounter for most attendees. I found that maintaining any critical distance was very difficult, and actually felt like I’d lost the thread of his stories and philosophical meanderings on several occasions.
He also describes making a show called De Fuut that will be very successful and travel around many festivals. This strong suggestion that the person before us is actually a real person rather than a fictional invention is reiterated at several points during the piece. His discourse is also very realistic, in the sense that it could pass for a transcribed audio recording from a prison cell confession of a real paedophile. We also hear a supposed recording of a conversation with the two young women, Leida and Emma, which sounds authentic (though it is in Dutch). We are thereby led to entertain the possibility that this author/performer is actually hiding in plain sight, and these really are his fantasies and his experiences. He claims to have been inspired by Nabokov’s book Lolita, which might be true of both the character and the writer, and made me wonder if I’d prefer to be reading this monologue, or watching it as a film. Perhaps it if he just retreated into the space at times it might give us some respite.
Vandendriessche is a strong performer and the writing is layered, nuanced and finely crafted. He definitely has created an intensely engaging piece that provides an effective showcase for his talents. Whether or not the people who witness it will be thankful they did will surely depend on what they’re looking for in a theatrical experience. It is likely to arouse significant self-consciousness, and quite possibly distress for those who have experienced sexual abuse. At moments, as I glanced at some older men on the front row, I wondered if any of them had experienced sexual desire towards children, and it struck me that this piece has a responsibility towards any potential perpetrators too. It plays this game with the audience of whether it’s real or not in a way that might provoke hostility. Immediately after the performance, out of character, he does acknowledge that the subject matter is sensitive (which is, of course, described in the publicity) and offers to stay behind to discuss it with whoever may wish to, which seems a wise offer to make. However it lands with you, it is likely to provoke much reflection and debate.