Gomaar Trilogy

The Gomaar Trilogy has stylish puppetry and heartfelt sincerity – but its confident aesthetic fails to enliven a tired story of a male artist trying to accommodate his creative impulses in an indifferent universe.

The story presents us with two central dilemmas: the choice between creating art and providing for those you love; and how we survive when time seems to march against us.

The play opens with Gomaar and his daughter having a string of heart-to-hearts at the funeral of Gomaar’s mother. From there, we see into the eponymous hero’s past; his journey from eager young upstart to frustrated young writer and husband; all the way through to frustrated middle-aged mourner and estranged father. The story presents us with two central dilemmas: the choice between creating art and providing for those you love; and how we survive when time seems to march against us.

The first of these, however, does not really feel like a dilemma at all. The struggling, tempestuous male artist trope is an extremely familiar one and tricky to successfully reinvent. Gomaar’s character has few redeeming qualities, so it is difficult to feel invested in him. When his wife is working three jobs to provide for the family, and the play presents no reason (compelling or otherwise) that Gomaar should be a writer in the first place, his dedication to the creative life looks selfish and irresponsible. This leaves little sense of jeopardy for the audience, as we neither see enough of his wife to share in her situation, nor care enough about Gomaar to share in his.

The puppet that depicts Gomaar is itself ever-set with a world-weary expression and, for a character who spends an unnecessary proportion of stage time talking exclusively about his feelings, the puppet’s manner seems oddly rigid and taciturn. This is made up for somewhat by the consummate skill of the puppeteering. The performers slot their own hands and arms into the puppets’ sleeves and hold the puppets’ torsos against their own. As such, the bodies of puppet and puppeteer merge, creating figures that have real on-stage substance.

Their mostly grey colour-scheme, however, adds to an atmosphere that, if not bleak, is at least unremittingly sombre. Over an eighty-minute running time, this creates an uninviting proposition for the audience. Furthermore, most of the play’s contemplative monologues and emotional peaks are accompanied by gratuitous amounts of minor-key violin music. The effect is stifling, denying us the space to work out the emotions for ourselves. It is as though the play distrusts our ability to have feelings.

In the story’s final third, Gomaar must live out the consequences of his earlier decisions. Here the play questions intelligently whether or not these consequences are just and hints at some interesting ideas about agency and ageing. Gomaar is trapped in a muted word of unfulfilled potential. Trouble is, despite some merit in its design, so is his play.

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Performances

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The Blurb

Everything always returns. Gomaar the farmer’s son, behind the behind of a horse. Gomaar the college student in the era of Che. Gomaar divorced, but still riding his Norton. Three stories, one life. The life of Gomaar. Filled with love and irony and set against the background of a changing city of Flanders, Wim DeWulf’s acclaimed Gomaar Trilogy for award-winning Belgian theatre company Ultima Thule, combines thrilling storytelling and puppetry in a funny and deeply human universal folk tale where discontent of life goes hand-in-hand with the poetic panorama of a village, a city and a family.

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