BCF 2019: Oorlog (War)  Production Photo: Theater Artemis

An alternately amusing and harrowing translation of combative chaos for adults and children, Oorlog, also the Dutch word for "war," is a uniquely creative art form of conflict, the power and hilariousness of broken foundations and backwards thought. That might sound inappropriate and jarring, but Theater Artemis know exactly what they're doing and how they're doing it. Their cluttered set, along with their cluttered narrative, defies easy explanation, but so does war itself. Just like Oorlog's trio of uniformed soldiers at war with both themselves and their audience. But it's a playful kind of war, naturally.

Speaking in reverse - for example, "DOOG GNINEVE!" ("Good evening!") - and then being corrected, or not. Encouraging us to make "war noises". (Like "BLAM, BLAM" and "POW, POW".) Bleeding noses. Roller skating. Tag. A good old fashioned ball fight - with the audience, no less! And a "dove" making the peace sign. These are among the numerous clever and entertaining battle concepts toyed with by director Jetse Batelaan for a message that transcends the horrors of war into something more universal: that reflection alone is not enough to properly and that poorly built houses and relationships, no matter how superficially pleasing, are doomed to crumble.

If the pacing of the clowning, a strength in its own right, prevents the overall emotional connection from being as powerful as it should be, Oorlog remains a novel and nimble undertaking with surprising poignancy at the best of moments. In short, a worthy opener for the Belfast Children's Festival.

Simon Fallaha

Oorlog (War) ran at the Young At Art Belfast Children's Festival at The MAC, Belfast, from March 8th to March 10th. For more information, click here.