Personal becomes political in The Quest
Belgian actor, comedian and performer, Cédric Eeckhout, sets about taking the audience on a quest, singling out the similarities that unite his fate with that of Europe, and specifically the European Union, using personal events to mirror those of the European community.
He starts by pointing out his initials (surname first) mimic the European Community that came into being not long after his birth. He then cleverly interweaves stories of his own life, with those of the EC/EU.
In one story his bank card was misused and he could not meet the rent, so his friends bailed him out. It happened at exactly the same time Greece needed a European bailout. Ashamed, he stayed at home, much like Greece’s austerity, but when he decided to start socialising, he found that all his friends were always “busy”, yet they seemed to still have time for each other.
The action on stage, with his real life mother, Jo Libertiaux, and his cat Jesus, played by Douglas Grauwels, is intercut with video footage in which he and his mother travelled across Europe asking individuals about union, love, separation and nationality. These in themselves are interesting, but it’s what he takes from it that is so clever.
He performs in English – not one of the national languages of Belgium, because his mother is a French-speaking Wallonian and his father is Flemish. His parents divorced when he was five, but never really explained to him why. Since then he has been on a quest to find true love that has seen him start relationships with men from France, Italy, England and Hungary. He covers the difficulties of common language, the cultural traits (particularly with reference to the acceptance of being gay in some European countries) and of course Brexit. In the latter vignette he is so annoyed about his partner not bothering to vote in the EU referendum that he ends the relationship.
The humour is quite subtle, the language passionate (and peppered with plenty of swearing). He wears a suit of armour during much of the performance, which Janine Goedert, in her talk beforehand, says reflects the idea of Don Quixote, who also went on a quest where he ended up tilting at windmills. Is this Eeckhout trying to understand the difference between reality and illusion? Does the EU still stand for peace, democracy, human rights (towards immigrants and refugees too) and remembrance?
Eeckhout certainly makes you think more about where the European Union is going or trying to go ‑ how much it has compromised the values and the very essence of what it was set up to do, and how much it truly acts in union. The highlight is a witty version of Adele’s song Hello (from the other side), showing his uniquely Belgium viewpoint of the EU.
His cat Jesus (whether a reference to religion or really just a pet) is always by his side, as is his mother, both offering their viewpoints.
The performance, which lasts about 2 hours, whilst passionate and interactive (he does involve the audience) needs some polishing. I am not sure how well this works in a theatre which - due to pandemic restrictions - is only a third full (whether it be from Eeckhout’s point of view or the audience’s). There is no buzz, and people seem embarrassed to be involved at some points. There are also elements which don’t add anything – particularly getting audience members on stage to help make Belgian frites and then handing them out. We get it, Eeckhout – you’re Belgian and you love twice fried frites!
There are also times when the transition from on-stage performance to video footage is clumsy and where it feels that Eeckhout has lost his train of thought. This will probably get smoothed over as he performs this more regularly, and would definitely work better with a bigger audience.
Is it worth going to see? It’s a great way of comparing things we know about – love, marriage, separation, with things we are less sure of – how the EU actually works or indeed should work. By making the personal “political”, Eeckhout is certainly a unique voice in this discussion. If you prefer your comedy with slick timing though, then this is probably not for you.
The Quest will be performed again tonight at Théâtre des Capucins at 20.00.