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Profile Cycling for Malawi

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Distress invites itself to dinner


by Simone Kaempf

Nowhere else are there as many furnishing programmes as on Dutch TV. When it comes to building culture, the boldest designs come from the small country that has to cope with little space. Houses shoot up into the sky, the country-side is piled up in storeys, and if you want a garden you hang it in front of your tower block flat. This vision of ecological, maximal densification and modern design is a fantasy of the urban high rise of Dutch architects: a futuristic game, but also an intellectual edifice that solves problems. The houses are getting better, but lasting architecture doesn't necessarily bring a more lasting life.

The playwright Nathan Vecht specially chose the highest place in a house for his characters. His play "Cycling for Malawi" doesn't take place in a living room in which the characters are symbolically stuck to the couch and remain at a standstill. Nor in the setting of a hotel room, that currently are frequently seen in Dutch productions that cast a critical glance at the globalised world. Instead it takes place on a roof terrace in the town centre, with wooden fences and tiles: "As flawless as in a brochure" suggests Nathan Vecht. In one scene a rambling weeping willow is admired and much green, for everything Trude's husband adds into the pollutant balance through his travelling she "plants back. If we should leave this world someday, we should leave it exactly how we found it."

The third world is next door
Trude has made her guilty conscience into her job and works for several Africa-help organisations. However, her professional and private life is not as environmentally neutral as her balcony. Nathan reveals this insight in two steps. At the beginning the couple are sitting on the roof terrace, waiting for friends, and simply just quickly want to take a picture with the self-timer. The position of the sun is ideal, "everything is ideal" say Trude.

However, the camera doesn't work - and one begins to suspect that its owners can't always be as ideal as they'd like to be. Nathan Vecht puts the rule to the test in his play and sends the needy neighbour over. Olga is lonely, whimsical, demanding, and above all much closer to home than a suffering child in the third world, for whose wellbeing Trude does a great deal. She, who always wants to be a do-gooder, is now confronted with the fact that someone wants to actually take some good.

Uninvited guests
Eight and a half years ago the German playwright wrote a play with a similar plot together with Klaus Schuhmacher from the Young Theatre Hamburg. In "Louis and Louisa" the South American godchild is suddenly standing at the door, then settles down in the family and annoys everyone. Of course this new son, who now says "Daddy" and "Mummy" can't be coldheartedly sent away. "Cycling for Malawi" puts the characters into a similar dilemma: What to do with the uninvited guest?