Anders Breivik meets Geert Wilders. For an hour, the two are stuck in a room and have no choice but to make conversation. "How far are you willing to go?" asks the fictional Breivik, in a play that premiered in Amsterdam on Thursday night.
Playwright Theodor Holman made sure this piece of drama would not pass by unnoticed, telling a newspaper one week before the premiere: "I feel a kinship with Anders Breivik."
You read that right: with the man who gunned down 69 people, mostly teenagers, on Norway's Utøya island, after killing another seven with a bomb in Oslo.
Looking for trouble
Before the show, at the bar in De Balie theatre, Holman was unwilling to elaborate, to repeat his words, or to take them back. That's what he said. "I don't give interviews." Within minutes of this refusal, however, he was being interviewed, and clearly enjoying it, by PowNews, the love-them-or-hate-them provocateurs of Dutch journalism.
Ah, the lure of the television camera. And not just any camera, but PowNews, the show that thrives on broadcasting the same provocative, anti-multicultural message Holman himself spreads. Just like his former friend Theo van Gogh, the filmmaker-publicist who was assassinated in 2004 out of revenge for his repeated insults of Islam.
And there were plenty of television cameras. Local and national Dutch media had to compete with the French and Norwegians. All were expecting - or hoping - there would be some kind of trouble. Especially now, with immigration back in the spotlight: Geert Wilders's party has launched an anti-Eastern European website, deeply embarrassing the very government he's propping up with his political support in parliament.
Holman's own take on the website, which encourages Dutch citizens to report negative experiences with Bulgarian, Romanian and Polish immigrants, was telling. He remarked that he was "against reporting people." It was much better, he said, with an ironic tone, "to kick the s--t out of people, to shoot them," because reporting them is so "lame."
City of tolerance
"You cannot be allowed to incite hatred in this country," exclaimed a lone protestor outside De Balie, an hour before curtain time. He stood, holding his bicycle, with a small dog in a basket hanging from the handlebars. One female journalist told another, "that's the sweetest demonstrator I've ever seen."
As he slammed Theodor Holman's play and the anti-immigration policies of Geert Wilders, the protestor wiped the remains of a broken egg off the curb with a handkerchief. The yellow, gooey mess was intended for another target - playwright Theo Holman - but in the heat of a radio interview, the egg had slipped out of the protestor's hand and landed on the pavement. When someone asked whether that was part of his act, the protestor jokingly put his finger to the ground and drew the insignia of his beloved Amsterdam in the yolk. A reference to the tolerance his city is famous for.
The play itself - Breivik ontmoet Wilders (Breivik meets Wilders) - delivered none of the fireworks it promised. The idea was one-dimensional. Two characters, one the Norwegian terrorism suspect Anders Breivik and the other the rightwing populist politician Geert Wilders, are stuck in a room at Heathrow airport where Breivik tries to engage the Dutchman in a conversation.
"Mister Wilders, I admire you. Our ideas are the same." And: "How far are you willing to go?"
The question makes Wilders uncomfortable. After all, he shares Breivik's fear of Islamization, which he says will one day create a Eurabia where the Norwegians and Dutch must bow to sharia law. But Wilders realises he's talking to a madman and he defends democracy.
A nuanced Wilders
Before the opening, it seemed this play might be critical of the real-life Wilders, drawing the very comparison that the politician so vehemently denied following the Breivik terror attack in July last year.
But, as the play unfolded, it showed Geert Wilders as a reasonable man who differentiates between fiery rhetoric and actual explosives, who talks like a warrior but stops short of taking up arms. Wilders came out looking nuanced compared to Breivik, who could not accept any discrepancy between ideals and action. The conclusion? Wilders is sane and Breivik a madman.
"I think Holman's right," said one man at the bar, after the hour-long performance. "It's too late for Dutch democracy. The problems caused by immigration can no longer be solved by democratic means."
Another theatre-goer, a woman from Poland, was angry. "This play is not art. This is propaganda. It's a defense of Geert Wilders. He can throw all us Poles out of Holland. But we can do the same. Maybe we should throw all the Dutch out of Poland."