Saturday, March 09, 2019

Oorlog (War) – explaining the fog of war and the glossary of conflict to little people #bcf19

How should we introduce our children to the concept of war? How do we get across the idea that conflict is messy and unpredictable, causes random acts of violence, and often drags all those around into suffering and retaliation?

Oorlog is the Dutch word for war and Theater Artemis are across at Belfast Children’s Festival with this bonkers piece of theatre. As we file into the downstairs space at The MAC, the stage looks like a workshop, with the floor cluttered with all manner of objects and devices.

There’s a semi-regular rumble from somewhere deep into the paraphernalia. The mostly peaceful state is disturbed as items begin to crash down, chaotically knocking over neighbouring objects, and revealing the mirrored letters W A R facing the audience.

Three figures dressed in military uniform tentatively tiptoe into this booby-trapped environment. The shortest soldier dutifully translates the halting explanation of senior-looking officer. The handle falls off the door – the emergency sign above it says TIXE – suggesting that they have reached the point of no return. We are at war.

Oorlog is a worked example, walking through the glossary of conflict, introducing the different phases of battle as well as the fog of confusion and exhaustion that at times can be seen to eliminate clear-thinking and logic. Skirmishes, hand-to-hand combat, and even battlefield medicine are all laid out before the audience aged 7 and over. It’s very playful, and even the non-physical elements like sounds and language are used to gently teach the entertaining lessons.

Oorlog’s scenes are not all militaristic. Some of the mini-dramas are based around a nose-bleed or a clash of understanding and motivation. But soon the audience get the chance redouble our efforts and add physical assault to an earlier spot of verbal aggression. It’s touch and go whether the gung-ho stalls can observe a truce. Even reconstruction turns out not to be terribly easy or complete. We are complicit by both our acts of commission and omission.

While Northern Ireland is enjoying a measure of peace and is often now said to be a post-conflict society, we are still conflicted. We’re not at peace, and skirmishes bubble up on a weekly basis. The youngest generation are not beyond being touched by conflict within local communities, not beyond witnessing warmongering political battles in TV studios and confrontational parliaments, and even the best supervised playground can erupt in violence over something petty.

One of the most important lessons for the young and old heads at the Belfast Children’s Festival comes half way through when the plot appears to have gone off the rails and we hear an off-stage conversation: “You’re always telling me what to do, but don’t do anything yourself.”

Be careful who leads you to into battle. Think before you get dragged into conflict. Who teaches this lesson to our children? They surely shouldn’t have to learn the hard way?

The pleading and unanswered “How long do we have to go on?” is perhaps the most poignant moment. The show is only 50 minutes long, but the conflict will last many lifetimes.

You can catch the final performance of Oorlog (War) at 3pm on Sunday 10 March in The MAC.

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