KNAUS starts with the words: ‘Good question’. Not a single question has been asked so far, but the opening move intrigues. Actor Valentijn Dhaenens is alone on a virtually bare stage. Above him, threateningly, hangs a moon disc that changes colour as we go along - a beautiful image from set designer Stef Stessel. Dhaenens repeats the opening question, then addresses the audience.

Director and author Alexia Leysen and Dhaenens, working together under the wings of the Flemish theatre collective BRUT, premiered with KNAUS this year in April (in VOORUIT, editor’s note). Leysen has adapted Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgårds more than 3500 pages long autobiographical materspiece My Struggle (2009-2011) into a theatre monologue called KNAUS: a disarming, honest, idiosyncratically meandering theatre experience.

The makers more or less let go of the initial inspiration behind the play (Knausgård’s famous series of novels). Nowhere does his name get mentioned, and only once do we hear the words ‘my struggle’. Although many passages stand out as vintage Knausgård, Leysen and Dhaenens have something else in mind: finding the answer to the question who someone is, why (s)he does what (s)he does and how (s)he has to account for his/her life and actions.

The most beautiful passages in this monologue are about Knausgård’s three children and the difficulties he has in his marriage; exactly as in the novels themselves. The struggle of authorship and why people write is another theme. ‘I write to elevate reality’, Dhaenens says, and: ‘I want to be seen.’ The word ‘shame’ comes back several times, and forms the crux of this monologue: shame exists for the very reason that we want to be seen, distinguish ourselves, be present - sometimes at someone else’s expense.

Dhaenens’ sober acting style, with the occasional emotional peak, subtly underlines how, slowly, despair is grabbing him by the throat. At times he merely mumbles, but then he musters up the energy to proceed with his account, occasionally to piano music. Towards the end he goes back to the beginning,abouttheheart,thatbeats,hiddeninsideourbody,unseen.That’salsohowpartone of My Struggle, A Death in the Family starts: with his father’s heart that has stopped beating. Dhaenens disappears behind the black moon disc and doesn’t return. That is the intriguing paradox of this subtle performance: an actor playing an author who may have written over three thousand pages about himself and his own life yet wants to remain invisible. And the actor himself?

He balances on the verge of being present and the urge to be absent.

TRANSLATION: Nadine Malfait