The Deer House

Needcompany, Brussels, Belgium, 2011
Author: Jan Lauwers & Needcompany
Directed by Jan Lauwers

about the production

As a medium, theatre has the most direct link with ‘human nature’ since it is performed by people and for people. It is essential to seek out this human nature so that theatre can redefine itself in order to survive. This means it is necessary to tell new stories.

Jan Lauwers

I was prompted to write ´The Deer House´ by the sometimes tragic peripheral events that take place within the close circle of Needcompany. While we were on tour somewhere in France, one of our dancers, Tijen Lawton, received the news that her brother, the journalist Kerem Lawton, had been shot dead in Kosovo. His tragic death provided the starting point for a play about a group of theatre makers who are increasingly faced with the harsh reality of the world they travel around in. Everything is politics, but art isn’t everything. Art always gets caught between the pages of history: it is futile and has no influence on any events at all, which is where the mysterious necessity for it lies.

Jan Lauwers

 For about two decades Needcompany has been a unique, visual theatre talking about the great topics of today with its specific combination of word, music and motion – mixed in an associative rather than rational way. Among the dominant elements of their work are multilinguality, naturally resulting from the international make up of the company, constant transformation of formal techniques and a non-linear way of composing the stories. Jan Lauwers, originally a visual artist, founded the company in 1986 out of the need to narrate the stories by theatre. Even today he is still one of the most distinctive Belgian stage artists. He has managed to gather around himself excellent, talented artists and, together with them, create a grand theatrical volume consisting of Shakespeare’s adaptations, author productions, dance and performance projects next to visual art work and films. Needcompany is known for the intensive personal involvement by each member in the creative process. The authors themselves often compare their work to living in a large family.  Each   of them is individually active and responsible for the quality of his projects, but also needs the company, within which he creatively exists (therefore the title Needcompany). What is characteristic of Lauwers’s way of understanding acting was labelled by several critics as the technique of ´non-acting´. It seems that the actors of the Needcompany bring in and, intentionally, test their own civilian ´self´ in the story.

The Deer House is the final part of the trilogy about the human nature Sad Face / Happy Face and it is not easy to give it a name. It is something between a fairy tale and a tragedy of the ancient nature, a travesty and a profound expression of sadness, naively constructed story and a reconstruction of a real event. Lauwers is modelling the tragic death of a war journalist, brother of one performer, into a universal story of loss, revenge, responsibility and foreigners.  He is shaping the story to fit the company directly. Through a fictive journalist’s diary, he is speculating what the thoughts of a man helplessly documenting fratricide war conflicts could have been. Without pathos or any pity for the tragically deceased nor any conflict party Lauwers is trying the actors hard, right in front of us, just as people in the war are tried. He puts them in special situations and lets them act but, simultaneously, observe and judge their acting in front of us. The story enters us and the actors so slowly and imperceptibly that we do not even notice when the actors have changed their costumes, stopped joking and a tragic play is beginning. Equally imperceptibly, the stage suddenly looses the shape of something which resembled a theatre background rather than a stage, or a funny, symbolic stage setting composed of cables and a constantly growing number of deer’s antlers on the stage, and is changed into a ravishing picture of the post-apocalyptic world resembling a mass grave.

They are all present on the stage during the whole performance as a chorus, in the Brecht meaning of the word, and that gives the personal suffering a collective dimension and enables them to depict and experience collective emotions. Man is always suffering alone, but is, nevertheless, in Lauwers’s view, part of a family and a community.

The Deer House is a play which, paradoxically, without a trace of pathos or sentimentality, without the loss of irony and laconism when commenting on the present, brings back big emotions and fantasticality to the theatre. With its bizarre visual display and content, tracing the ancient stories, it brings to the stage pictures full of brutality.  It is them that have the strength to provoke the most sincere manifestations of humanity in man and force him to ask himself principal questions.  Such as this kind of theatre predominantly can inspire.
Maja Hriešik

 “In The Deer House, Lauwers investigates the distress that can be found in any society just as in any soul. The stage is a surrealistic setting for dance and music, for speaking and moving, for visual arts and the self-perception of the actors, for dreams and nightmares. No claim is ever made to an unambiguous interpretation. There’s no fast food for thought here, but there is great leeway for associations, for own perceptions, out of which deep emotion arises during the performance. But it still remains true that ´nobody writes his own history´.

´Watch out, the world is not behind you,´ this statement taken from Velvet Underground is a recurrent theme of the whole production. But where is reality, what is fiction, in this world? Where does it come into our lives? Does it always only happen from outside? In the face of death, the Needcompany makes suggestions, without giving any convincing answers. That’s not possible anyway, as everyone feels there aren’t any. Even the finality of death cannot provide us with any certainty. Death is nothing but the start of a new chapter. Grief gives birth to the next tragedy. Powerful. Sad. Different. New. The hard reality is about surviving. As Velvet Underground puts it: ´there’s always someone around you who will call´.”
Bernhard Flieher, Salzburger Nachrichten



direction, text, set design: Jan Lauwers
choreography: Needcompany
costumes: Lot Lemm,
ears: Denise Castermans
assistants: Lieve Meeussen, Lise Lendais
lighting design: Ken Hioco, Koen Raes
music: Hans Petter Dahl, Maarten Seghers,
except: “Song for the deer house”, which was written by Jan Lauwers
sound design: Dré Schneider
dramaturgical introduction: Erwin Jans
cast: Viviane De Muynck, Eléonore Valère (replaces Tijen Lawton), Inge Van Bruystegem, Julien Faure, Benoît Gob, Maarten Seghers, Anneke Bonnema, Hans Petter Dahl, Misha Downey, Yumiko Funaya, Grace Ellen Barkey
production: Needcompany, Salzburger Festspiele
coproduction: Schauspielhaus Zurich, Switzerland; Salzburger Festspiele,  Austria; PACT Zollverein, Essen, Germany; deSingel, Antwerp, Belgium; Kaaitheater, Brussels, Belgium;


Jan Lauwers (1957) studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in the Belgian city of Gent. In his professional career he focuses on a wide spectrum of media: theatre, film, video, visual art, installations, performances... In 1979 he founded the ensemble Epigonenensemble, three years later transformed to Epigonentheater zlv collective, which surprised the theatre world with its six theatrical productions of a direct, very tangible, very visual theatre where music and language are being used as structural elements. Following the dissolution of this group, Jan Lauwers, together with Grace Ellen Barkey, established Needcompany (1986), a strikingly international ensemble which, in the past twenty years, under Lauwers’s leadership, achieved an international fame for its way of working with the theatre as a medium and for the introduction of a highly specific, and in many respects, pioneering theatrical style, characterised by its investigation of the meaning of the theatre and the transparent “thinking“acting, as well as the study of the contradiction between acting and performance. Jan Lauwers is a founder of the avant-garde project Needlapb, where Needcompany introduces its unique working techniques to a limited number of viewers each year. For the festival in Avignon in 2006 he created, according to his own script, a stage production Lobster Shop, which together with The Deer House, introduced in 2008 at Salzburger Festpiele, and the production of Isabella´s Room (2004) form a trilogy about human nature entitled Sad Face / Happy Face.


Materials available

Script of the production: SK, EN, FR

If you are interested in these materials, write to archivy@nitrafest.s