After successful runs at various Fringe Festivals, Gehring and Ketelaars brought their critically acclaimed show Bye Bye World to Battersea Arts Centre for two nights only, as well as presenting their new scratch piece. If this piece and the snippet of their next is anything to go by, these are two performers you certainly shouldn’t miss the next time they grace London.
Brilliantly covered in Fin Kennedy’s modern classic How to Disappear Completely And Never Be Found, the theme of “disappearing” and running away from life seems to be a modern parable that many find worthy of exploring; maybe it speaks to the same part of us as boys-own-adventure books and video games, although the escapism here is, in itself, the story. In Gehring and Ketelaars’ version, this is less of the practical textbook that Kennedy’s script is underpinned with – their journey is more emotional, more poetic, and their play is more about the people that disappear and their reasoning over what happens when they do.
Staged simply with two benches and just two performers, the focus is immediately on both Gehring and Ketelaars and their thick Dutch accents (and the first stumbling block that must be conquered). However, on the other side are two extremely well-balanced performers who work together in a wonderful pairing of physiques, styles and personalities – perfectly complemented. With a combination of physical theatre, quick character transitions and quirky wit, they construct an entire play from so very little – this is classic fringe theatre, at its heart, and these girls excell at it.
In this story, Gehring and Ketelaars are Olga and Dino – two young women that, for various reasons, feel a need to escape their lives: Olga’s textbook happy coupling is clearly only the veneer to a more personal anguish, while Dino’s inability to connect is more a rejection of the people around her. These characters (and the characters around them) are all unearthed in short vignettes, mostly prefaced with the number of days before they’ll vanish, with plenty of narration to guide a plot that could otherwise get a little lost.
And that’s also the criticism that, I imagine, will dog these two: the work is funny, clever, well-observed and masterfully performed, but it’s not always obvious what’s going on. This is partially down to the language barrier, but also the methods behind the work: with only two performers (often with big, bursting smiles) and little set, we need to understand quickly how they’ve arrived at each moment, and it often took slightly too long for me to grasp what was happening.
But, outside of that arc, the work is artfully constructed and meticulous: Olga’s slow verbal breakdown through conversational nothings is instantly recognisable, as is Dino’s desperate, passionate hug of herself – that old trick of looking like two people entwined from behind gains emotional grit with such ease. Both characters ramble, but their ramblings are insightful, as are the moments of quiet in between – a rare case of matching cacophony and silence that, as in this case, often develops from devising.
The snippet of new piece Fort G, delivered as a scratch performance after Bye Bye World, has a familar feel to it: also very cleverly constructed (with the aid of vocalist Teresa Campos), this beginning to a fairy tale/Micronesian origin story uses more of the girls’ physical theatre skills, but I couldn’t tell you what the story was… I imagine there’s a lot more to come, but without clarity, it feels impenetrable.
Gehring and Ketelaars are that rare breed of performer who take to fringe theatre like ducks to water: perfectly at ease by themselves on stage, with no props or set, and with only themselves to entertain, they can create entire worlds, stories and characters from very little. The next time they come to London, save the date – and look out for them at any number of festivals, they’re sure to be there.