Portrait of an extremely wealthy, eccentric, artistic family in the midst of the events that shaped present-day Europe

De Wittgensteins

Jeroen De Man
Toneelgroep Oostpool, Nieuw Amsterdams Peil,
Het Nationale Theater

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Karl Wittgenstein (1847-1913) became astonishingly wealthy in the steel industry. The likes of Brahms, Mahler and Strauss were frequent guests in his Viennese ‘palace’. He ruled over his eight talented, highly musical children like a tyrant. Two world wars would go on to leave deep scars on the family. Two sons committed suicide, a third disappeared. Another, Paul, lost his right hand, but continued to play the piano with his left, while his brother Ludwig went on to become one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century. In The Wittgensteins, author and director Jeroen De Man presents us with a portrait of a broken family, with live music by Nieuw Amsterdams Peil. Through conversations about big topics – philosophy, art and politics – he draws connections between the important political and cultural shifts of those years and the Europe of today.

background information

With De Wittgensteins, Jeroen De Man directs his first self-written text for the main stage. The piece combines his two great passions, pre-war Europe and the theatre, and features starring roles for,

among others, Carly Wijs, Vincent van der Valk, and Theo d’Or winner Hannah Hoekstra, as well as live music from Nieuw Amsterdams Peil.

In De Wittgensteins, a fictional theatre company stages a production about the exorbitantly rich and eccentric Wittgenstein family, one of the wealthiest in pre-war Vienna. They rehearse, have discussions, perform music and grapple with the meaning of art and history in these confusing times, as time keeps marching on. On their way to a postponed premiere. On their way to the unavoidable end.

Theatre group Oostpool, Nieuw Amsterdams Peil, and the Dutch National Theatre sink their teeth into the extraordinary Wittgenstein family. To director Jeroen De Man, the Wittgensteins are allegorical figures who epitomise philosophy, music, visual arts, industry, architecture, bisexuality, and madness. In a grand musical theatre production, the Wittgensteins grow into icons. Their lives echo the history of Western Europe in the twentieth century as well as current issues arising from it: unbridled capitalism, the gap between rich and poor, war and the influx of refugees, nationalism, and individualisation.

The Wittgenstein family was part of the early twentieth century European elites. Composers such as Brahms and Mahler were house guests, artists like Klimt and Rilke enjoyed financial support. With billions in the bank, exceedingly valuable works of art on their walls, and bars of gold in the safe, the eight children of steel magnate Karl Wittgenstein (1847-1913) were free to develop themselves without any impediments. Paul, who lost his right arm during the Frist World War, had pieces for the left hand composed by Strauss and Ravel. As a one-armed pianist, he enjoyed successes at the Wiener Musikverein and Carnegie Hall.

The youngest son Ludwig explored the limits of language at Cambridge and in doing so gave philosophy a new starting point. Sister Grett married the black sheep of the Guggenheim family, travelled the world and moved in the highest diplomatic circles. But in contrast with this prosperity, there were the darkest of traumas. Two world wars shattered the once-thriving family. Two brothers committed suicide, a third disappeared, and nearly the entire fortune of this Jewish family wound up in the hands of the Nazis in order to escape the gas chamber.  The Wittgensteins’ family biography reads like an exciting novel and has the perfect ingredients for a theatre production.

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biographies

Jeroen De Man (1980) completed the actors’ program at theToneelacademie Maastricht in 2005. After finishing his studies, he worked at the Noord Hollands Toneel for one and a half years,

after which he was part of the artistic core of the theatre collective De Warme Winkel from 2006 until 2016. Apart from this, he directed theatre performances and operas with, among others, Zuidelijk Toneel, the RO Theatre, the new Luxor theatre, and Nieuw Amsterdams Peil.

From 2016 on, he has been a full-time director for Toneelgroep Oostpool in Arnhem and Het Nationale Theater in the Hague, where he made Ondertussen in Casablanca (montage performance), Kinderen van Judas (montage performance), Ondine (by Jean Giraudoux), Cinema (by Annie Baker), and Het duel (adapted from Chekhov). In addition, he has taught at the drama schools of Maastricht, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Arnhem, and Brussels for many years now.

Jeroen De Man’s work is characterised by its exceptional visual potency and openness towards the audience. In his productions, he allows his imagination free reign, and references to current affairs are always encoded in theatrical metaphors. He is fascinated by art and literature from the fin-de-siècle and interbellum, in particular in German-speaking and Russian culture. As a member of De Warme Winkel, he created various highly successful montage productions based on the life and work of artists from this period, such as Alma (about Alma Mahler), Rainer Maria (about Rilke), and Kokoschka Live!. The Warme Winkel production Gavrilo Princip, about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which led to the First World War, premiered at the Holland Festival in 2014.

Oostpool sees theatre as a place for ‘encounters’ with other people, times and ideas. Oostpool’s performances offer an insight, comfort or seek confrontation. The theatre company is socially involved, artistically daring and always current. Led by artistic director Marcus Azzini, the artistic directors challenge their audience with the question: How to be human now?

The large company Oostpool has settled in Arnhem for more than sixty-five years and travels throughout the country with its performances. The Oostpool ‘house’ is used for experiment and creation. Here a stage is offered to young artists, up-and-coming talents and established companies - from Arnhem, the region or nationwide.

Nieuw Amsterdams Peil (a.k.a. NAP or New Amsterdam’s Level) was founded in 2005 by violist Heleen Hulst and pianist Gerard Bouwhuis. As a collective they directed themselves in playing a broad repertoire of chamber music and musical theater as a flexible group. In this, their focus is on contemporary music. The musicians see themselves more as a ‘band’ than an ensemble: there is little hierarchy and every musician can supply one’s own input. The absence of a conductor demands great alertness from the musicians but also gives them more freedom, resulting In a heightened concentration.

Many new musical theater productions were written for NAP, in which the composer’s ideas always take center stage. Examples of interdisciplinary projects with Dutch composers are: Urwald by Arnold Noordegraaf (with film), Giacometti by Elmer Schönberder (with dance), Conversations with my mother by Benedict Weisser (with theater), Narcissus by Calliope Tsoupaki (with odor), Aan Barrels with music by Reza Namavar and Janco Verduin (for barrel-organ), Reclining Woman by Astrid Kruisselbrink (with visual arts), the much discussed piece of musical theater Anaïs Nin by Louis Andriessen, and most recently Uwe Leipe Mastdramnis by Rob Zuidam and directed by Jeroen De Man, starring mezzosoprano Gerrie de Vries.

As the largest travelling theatre in the Netherlands, Het Nationale Theater makes adaptations of classics as well as productions about contemporary topics that broaden our views of the world. They shed light on the other side of our national history and raise the question of what kind of world we will leave our children, and they show the myriad forms intimacy can take these days. The company works with established as well as new directors and is constantly exploring the significance of theatre today and in the future. They enter into dialogue about this with their fellow city residents in the Hague as well as with the people attending their shows throughout the country.

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Credits

after a book by
Alexander Waugh
text, direction
Jeroen De Man
dramaturgy
Remco van Rijn
cast
Carly Wijs, Vincent van der Valk, Gillis Biesheuvel, Hannah Hoekstra, Thomas Höppener, Yela de Koning, Reinout Scholten van Aschat, Stefan de Walle
music
Nieuw Amsterdams Peil (Heleen Hulst, Gerard Bouwhuis, Merel Junge, Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer)
assistant director
Emilie Pos
scenography
Sarah Nixon
costume
Saar Scheerlings, Sarah Nixon
hair & make-up
Pilo Pilkes
light
Prem Scholte Albers

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