Understudy Alwin Pulinckx (right) with director Olivier Diepenhorst.Statue Ivo van der Bent

    There are posters and flyers of the performance everywhere in Theater Bellevue the delusions with the photo of actress Abke Haring on it. But anyone who sees the performance does not see Haring, but Alwin Pulinckx. Ten days before the premiere, he took over the role from Haring, who had to drop out for personal reasons. the delusions is a poetic monologue written by poet Ingmar Heytze ‘which gives space to the maladjusted mind’. It is no small feat to replace such a role, which normally requires a six-week rehearsal period, in such a short time. Alwin Pulinckx did it. As he replaced a colleague who fell by corona a number of times last summer in ITA production The Damned in the Amsterdam Forest.

    ‘This is theater in a nutshell’, says Pulinckx (43), shortly after the first try-out of the delusions. When director Olivier Diepenhorst called him with the question whether he wanted to save the performance, he hardly needed time to think. Pulinckx said yes because he thought the text was incredibly beautiful, the theme interesting and also wanted to work with Diepenhorst. There was no time for long doubts or despair – he had to get to work.

    Diepenhorst: ‘When Abke Haring unsubscribed, I was initially devastated and then panicked. Because you can postpone the entire production for another year, but I felt that this piece should be played here and now. I’ve been working on it with Ingmar Heytze for a few years, so we immediately started looking for a very good actor who could fix this within ten days. That became Alwin.’

    In musicals, it is common for a sick performer to be immediately replaced by another who can take over the role completely. A commercial producer cannot afford to shut down such expensive production. In this sector, a system of understudy is used: artists who already rehearse for different roles in advance, in order to be able to take over from each other in case of an emergency.
    The deployment of a replacement actor within a few days, sometimes on the day itself, was unusual in Dutch theater until recently. But due to the corona crisis, theater groups have more or less been forced to look for ways to be able to play anyway. That has saved a lot of performances in the past two years.

    Director Ivo van Hove called Pulinckx this summer to ask whether he would like to play a part in The Damned could take over. First he replaced Dalorim Wartes, later even leading actor Majd Mardo. And both times he worked on those roles with Olivier Diepenhorst (who was then Van Hove’s assistant director) in pressure cooker mode.

    Alwin Pulinckx replaced several sick actors in 'The Damned' this summer.  Statue Ivo van der Bent

    Alwin Pulinckx replaced several sick actors in ‘The Damned’ this summer.Statue Ivo van der Bent

    Coincidentally I saw the performance on the evening on which Pulinckx played the leading role of the troubled character, with a sickly mother complex and pedophile tendencies. He did that wonderfully, as if he had rehearsed for weeks instead of a few days.

    Pulinckx: ‘Yes, how does something like that work? You get a call, you say yes, and then I went to look at the registration like mad. And then just stamp text, and stamp. In The Damned I was part of a large ensemble. It helped that I knew most of the actors well from the time I played at Toneelgroep Amsterdam myself. Such an intimate scene with Janni Goslinga takes no effort at all. But in the delusions I’m all alone on stage, that’s really something else.’

    The immediate deployment of a replacement is perhaps one of the few positive sides of the corona pandemic that has hit the theater hard. At Toneelgroep Oostpool in Arnhem, something else was devised to compensate for the cancellation of performances; the double occupancy. In productions like Laura H. and skylight worked with a double cast. Actresses Marie-Louise Stheins and Carly Wijs alternately played the leading role in skylight and in Laura H. that role was shared by Charlie Chan Dagelet and Jade Olieberg.

    Chyramain van Kempen, assistant director at the National Theater and understudy.  Statue Ivo van der Bent

    Chyramain van Kempen, assistant director at the National Theater and understudy.Statue Ivo van der Bent

    The National Theater in The Hague applied a different emergency plan. In performances like amusement, The Nation and My Mother’s Century, all three directed by Eric de Vroedt, each time someone dropped out due to a corona infection. No other actor was flown in for that, but assistant director Chyramain van Kempen went on stage with textbook and all. In amusement of Judith Herzberg he replaced actor Hein van der Heijden and Jaap Spijkers at the premiere. InThe Nation he took the place of the ailing Romana Vrede, who played a rather complex and sometimes emotional mother role.

    Van Kempen (31): ‘When Eric asked that, I said: I would love to do it, but I’m not Romana, and I’m not a mother, so I can’t deliver that emotional charge. What I could do was sketch as close as possible to that role. As an assistant director I sat in front of me for weeks with the text and the actors, so I was not completely blank. Eric always asked if I really liked it. And then it also applies in this profession the show must go on.’

    In the event of a replacement, the public is of course informed in advance and the reactions afterwards are often positive. People find it exciting, such a look behind the scenes of the theatre, and often the replacement receives heartfelt compliments afterwards. Van Kempen: ‘Yes, people say nice things to me. But I don’t see myself as the savior of the evening. It’s just meant to get the whole group to play, to keep going.’

    It is not to be hoped that corona will strike again this autumn, but it seems that the theater is better prepared for it: fewer cancellations, more deployment of replacements, with or without a textbook. You can also ask yourself whether the use of understudy in the theater should not be made possible from the outset.

    Eric de Vroedt: ‘There is talk about this in the sector, but the simple answer is that it would be far too expensive. In amusement fourteen actors participate, even if you would half work with understudy’s, that is still priceless. Musicals are produced much more commercially, played much more often, for a much larger audience. But I also find it difficult in terms of content: you choose an actor for his specific talent for that one role. Betty Schuurman in amusement or Esther Scheldwacht in My Mother’s Century are actually irreplaceable. Anyway, if these pandemics keep coming, we will indeed have to look for other solutions.
    ‘In addition, the advantage of an assistant director with a textbook on stage is that it is immediately transparent: he does not take over that role, but gives counterplay and boosts of energy so that the other actors can continue. Chyramain has done a fantastic job. Nobody expects him to show all facets of that role.’

    Chyramain van Kempen.  Statue Ivo van der Bent

    Chyramain van Kempen.Statue Ivo van der Bent

    Despite all the praise from the public and his director, Van Kempen has no acting ambitions. ‘Taking over a role is helpful, but believe me, I don’t intend to join the ensemble. I’d rather keep making theatre.’ That is of course different for Alwin Pulinckx. He was employed by Toneelgroep Amsterdam as an actor from 2001 to 2016. After that he could play less for a while, and now all of a sudden he can be seen in one role after another. As a replacement. Isn’t that difficult sometimes, that they call you when they need you?

    Pulinckx: ‘Er, no, I don’t really feel that way. When the family calls, then I’m there – something like that more. I know what I’m worth, I know what I can do, how I do it, and that someone else does it. As a substitute in those different roles I was able to show different things about myself, that is important to me. I am the replacement, but I also bring something of my own. And then again: no one is indispensable, everyone is replaceable.’


    When Ivo van Hove took office as artistic director of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Alwin Pulinckx had just left drama school and was doing an internship in Van Hove’s debut in Amsterdam, The Masacre of Paris. After that, he soon joined the company and played in Roman Tragedies, Angels in America and The Seagull and The Pelican. In All time, the debut film of Job Gosschalk, he was seen as ‘love interest’ by Paul de Leeuw.

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