With his Zeeland family story, theater maker Floris van Delft explores what happens when parents teach you to remain silent

Stories about the culture of silence are often about certain migrant communities in the Netherlands: the Indian culture of silence, the Antillean culture of silence, the culture of silence of people from the former Yugoslavia. But what, director Floris van Delft wondered, if the problem of silence is not so much a cultural but rather a generational one? After various collaborations with bicultural makers, he recognized many of their stories from his own Goeree-Overflakkee family, where the (grand)parents did not excel in sharing their soul stirrings.

In People like you Van Delft traces three generations of his family to explain why he struggles with expressing his feelings. The whole thing is presented as a frame story: the main character (Simon Heijmans) is interrogated by his girlfriend (Imanuelle Grives). She is quite shocked by his lack of reaction to the news that she is pregnant – which makes him delve deep into his own family history.

The interesting thing is that we look at Van Delft’s personal stories, while the actors play the characters as if they were their own family members. This creates an interesting tension between the Zeeland environment of Van Delft’s family and the personal memories of the players. It underlines the universality of the theme of concealing pain, loneliness and shame.

Big emotions

Unfortunately, this substantive potential is not fully realized due to the rather inept direction and the literalness of the dialogues. The players fail to put much nuance into their roles, because Van Delft constantly focuses on great emotions and always lets the characters move on to the conflict quite quickly – which ignores the long-lasting, painful effect of silence. It also doesn’t help that any potential emotional ambiguity is expertly played away by the constant musical direction of oud player Haytham Safia.

Van Delft made a name for himself with performances in which audience interaction was used in an exciting way. You can see that People like you remnants of: the actors occasionally address the audience about the questions the play raises, and about their own experiences with silence or lying. Within this context, however, this mainly ensures that the already obvious message of the piece is even more flattened. It seems as if Van Delft is so keen on universal accessibility of the piece that he did not want to leave anything to chance or the own interpretation of his spectators.

And that’s a shame, because the story he tells People like you Despite everything, he regularly manages to move you. When, towards the end of the play, Juan Zyad and Heijmans embrace each other in the roles of father and son, you see three different family histories – that of the director and that of the two actors – offering comfort and healing to each other. In this way, People Like You certainly shows the power of publicly breaking the silence.

Also read
about ‘Angry Young Men’ from 2022, the previous performance by Floris van Delft