Young Hearts Festival in Groningen embraces life’s questions in a festive way. And the Kunstwerf as the festival heart is a direct hit

The Young Hearts Festival aims to be a festival of reflection. Immediately at the opening you felt again: this is really a place where happy young faces go together with what is going on in their heads.

A heart-warming and moving speech in the Machine Factory symbolized what theater can do to a person. 20-year-old Keith van den Belt addressed the audience on Friday evening immediately after the stunning performance of Alexander Vantournhout. In his cheerfully spoken, poetic text he made it clear that he had a very difficult childhood. A little more love would have been nice. He received thunderous applause. He was beaming from ear to ear.

“Our Keith!” whispered Karin Noeken in the stands. Thumbs went up all around her. Because after all those difficult years, Keith became an actor at De Steeg, of which she is the artistic director. That’s what Keith looks back on, but especially to now, and even more to the future. A life turned for the better.

Don’t rush through your problem

Afterwards, the audience went to, call it, the heart of the festival heart, the NITE rehearsal room on the Kunstwerf, which was decorated in an unrecognizable festive manner. The two 12-year-old sisters Eva and Lynn, who previously participated from Lewenborg in De Wijk De Wereld, the multi-year cultural project in which Groningen residents actively work together, told and danced a spectacular story about secretly lying with your laptop instead of sleeping. This was followed by a performance by Marit Nygård on vocals and guitar, originally from Meppel, now a biology student and working at the USVA Theater. She is in the Hit The North talent development program with her ‘one-man orchestra’ (herself).

Inspiring environment, now extra, with that audience

Karlijn Benthem, the festival director, explained in her opening speech what Jonge Harten is mainly focusing on this time, in its broad programming of theater, dance, music, workshops and talks. Don’t solve problems in your life 1-2-3, take your time. Stay With Your Trouble is the slogan we read in more places. Not in the sense that you have to get stuck in it, just don’t rush through it.

The new Kunstwerf on the south side of the Ebbingekwartier has already been praised as the most inspiring new construction project of 2022. The various theater-making institutions have become each other’s friends, come together, help each other, and they vibe is now floating around extra, with all those visitors. A festival heart-de-luxe that deserves a major visit.

The Northerners are searching ‘again’ for the meaning of everything

It started there, a few hours before the not so official opening, with De Noorderlingen. The Groningen preliminary training that has helped so many young actors and actresses to major theater schools. has a beautiful production space in the Kunstwerf that is now used as a theater hall. The production group – the last part of the training program – had its try-out on Friday Out of focus with some self-sport announced as ‘yet another search for the meaning of existence’.

That search starts with ten young people, standing and sitting around what would have been a campfire in the past, but is now a fake fire with staggered LED lights. Dead quiet. A single blink. Just about ten minutes. Right down to some awkward shuffling in the stands. In the distance sounds like an electronic soundscape, yes what, a collection of heavy cowbells?

What is this?, they ask alternately. Well, this is it

Then a boy starts moving. And the others follow, outside a wooden frame on which the vertical cables – ingeniously – appear to serve as strings that generate timely plucked tension. The actors walk, dance and freak out as individuals to the ‘campfire’, to ask their life questions there. ‘What is this?’

Ultimately, they end up in a society and ‘living around each other’, in which half of them speak to each other and the other is on their mobile phone. ‘This is it’. A typical Northerner project by captain Lotte Lohrengel, which at first makes you think, what am I doing here, and then you are deeply drawn into it. Partly thanks to that good team.

Just as good for old as for young

This followed shortly afterwards Through the Grapevine by Alexander Vantournhout in the Machine Factory attached to the Kunstwerf. Just a few months ago, Vantournhout also dazzled during Noorderzon in the Kunstwerf with a circling performance, in which he dangerously waved a long hammer past the audience. Now he performed a duet with Axel Guérin on a trapezoidal floor and the audience left the hall again overwhelmed afterwards.

In a physical war of attrition, the two pushed the limits of where you can still keep your body intact. Impossible balancing on each other’s bodies, catching each other while lying down after a dive that you would find in a swimming pool, an hour of fatigue, with rest points (but not really) each time a kind of interweaving performance, humorous, where it was barely distinguishable from which leg, which arm or even which head it was. If this man comes to Groningen again: never let him leave without seeing him.

Which is to say, Young Hearts is for the young, but just as much for the old.

Jonge Harten will continue with a varied festival program until next Saturday. See for all information .