Bruno Vanden Broecke on Para: ‘You can put a lot into an empty barrel.’

Raven Ruell, David Van Reybrouck and Bruno Vanden Broecke have been quietly working on Para, their new production. It is the final part of their trilogy on Africa, which started with Die Siel van die Mier and Mission, that marvellous monologue on the missionary André. It’s the same team, nine years on.

Vanden Broecke: ‘It’s odd to be working with the same team again. But Raven (Ruell, director) and I only need one word to again become those idiots of nine years ago. And it’s always a pleasure to work on a piece written by David Van Reybrouck.’

Mission was and still is successful. The expectations for Para, the new play, must be very high.
Vanden Broecke: ‘Yes, they are. That’s why we’ve waited so long to go public with it. We wanted to work free of any expectations and without people already buying tickets.’

Aren’t you getting fed up with performing Mission?
Vanden Broecke: ‘No. I perform it in four languages (Dutch, French, German and Italian, ed.); that provides some variation. Every night is different. The audience makes sure of that. A lot can happen in nine years: my father died, I have twice become a father myself… I catch myself relating the script, which is so universal, to my own life at the time. That says a lot about its quality.’

It’s not missionaries talking this time, but parachute commandos. What is it in that profession that appeals to you?
Vanden Broecke: ‘The ground someone has to cover to become a soldier. To be able to murder someone. First you have to be completely hollowed out. In the script it says literally: you can put a lot into an empty barrel. That’s the only way you can carry out orders unquestioningly.’

‘In the field there is often endless boredom, apart from those few moments when everything actually has to go at lightning speed. What a contrast. And then getting home and feeling lonely; after all, how do you start finding words for what you have experienced?’

The production is based on conversations with parachute commandos who took part in the mission in Somalia in the early nineties.
Vanden Broecke: ‘Everyone still remembers Rwanda, but in fact Somalia was Belgium’s largest post-war military operation. There were almost 3000 commandos there. What is their story? David Van Reybrouck wants to give a voice to less common professions. A missionary, a commando. People who occupy a particular position in our society and who deserve to be heard. He wants to enable us to get an insight into their lives. Not to put them in either a positive or negative light, but to learn to understand them. Lives are more complicated than you think. And even more complicated when you think.’ 

Interview by Kris Kuppens