Johan Harstad’s Norwegian novel, on which this show is based, is all about the deliberate quest to be second best – to be ordinary. Mattias is obsessed with Buzz Aldrin, second man on the moon.
In Charlotte Vandermeersch’s adaptation for Belgian young people’s theatre company Kopergietery, that central idea actually gets a bit lost. It’s a lovely adaptation otherwise – swift and touching, just not really about what it says it’s about.
Instead, we get a very sweet story about Mattias, his break-up with childhood sweetheart Helle, and his time in a strange halfway house on the Faroe Islands, where he finds a small community of friends.
In a spare production, Vandermeersch plays Mattias, standing in a red raincoat, getting rained on, while Karen Willemstad tinkers with all kinds of instruments at the side of the stage: toy drum, kalimba, synth – even a particularly foul sound from a tin can scraped along the strings of an autoharp.
The sounds seem to represent things inside Mattias’ head, but their apparent randomness is a bit grating, the ever-changing soundscape a distraction from Vandermeersch’s intense performance.
In the middle, however, is a stupendous cover of Take My Breath Away from Vandermeersch, a rare moment when Mattias stops being second and comes out firmly on top. Video design from Ann-Julie Vervaeke brings the chilly Faroes to life, too.
Although more of a Michael Collins than a Buzz, the show’s pared elements and its stylish visuals have no trouble evoking sad, desolate landscapes, both within Mattias’ mind and in the empty place he inhabits.