Paul Boekkooi schreef 20 mei 1997 in The Star (Zuid Afrika)

Harmonies of a theatre safari

The French describe Herman van Veen as "a tender anarchist", but his real anarchistic nature belongs to the past. It's more a tenderness and a concerned involvement with global issues which keeps this Dutchman driven.

Herman van Veen, now here for a second countrywide tour after the accolades he received during his sole appearance in Oudsthoorn last year, has revolutionised the concept of music theatre as an art form -using all its diverse elements to create a new, boundless and ever changing frisson on the world's stages. After obtaining a degree at the Utrecht Conservatory in the early Sixties, majoring in musicology, Van Veen had to find a way of making a living, with voice and a violin his only assets.

It was clear from the outset that he would not become a classical musician - fate picked him to serve music theatre a genre he would pioneer and develop according to his own artistic will. Music theatre is quite unlike cabaret, revue or any other established style. "When we started with our type of theatre the Beatles, the Stones and Frank Zappa became famous. We were at odds with this pop explosion: we came with our trouvere and troubadour-like music.

"I've always found that the arts are an adequate and civilised way to respond to any form of reality, but this, I agree, is a typical European way to go about it."

But one thing Herman van Veen and his whole entourage do, is identify themselves with aspects of the country they perform in. They arrived here about 10 days ago for a working holiday, to get a stronger feel of the country and its people. Van Veen, who experienced the revolution in Germany and central Europe in the late 1980s, has prominent views about South Africa's own transition:
"What happened in this country was something very notable. Internationally, we've experienced the collapse of the empire of Mao Tse-tung, the wall in Germany, of apartheid in South Africa. Worldwide something has happened over the past seven years, a collective consciousness which also manifested itself in South Africa.
"The revolution here is unequalled in v/orld history. No civil war broke out, no fascist society developed, the change occurred as if in a dream. Most people have, as yet, not really realised what has happened, but at this moment there is no talk of callousness, of polarisation. It is a miraculous moment in history, not only here, but also in Europe - especially Germany - and above all in the previous Communist countries, Russia and China."

Herman van Veen feels he's part of this, and when he wrote a poem on Nelson Mandela about 15 years ago, he demonstrated his solidarity with the struggle. He would not visit South Africa under apartheid rule. Years later he met our President and played on drums for him. Van Veen didn't know what ___ to say, and remembered that Africans thank the earth for their existence by playing drums...
If all this sounds preciously serious, Van Veen soon reminds you that he is, in the first place, an entertainer. Travelling is his obsession. In this process he can only react subjectively to what he sees and experiences. He writes about it, but it's not a judgement of value. He's like a traveller who sings on safari. For that reason his programmes differ in each country, each city, every day.

Van Veen's lasting impression of his two Oudtshoorn performances last year was that his audiences were "confrontational". He explains: "It was a concentrated cross-section of society, and we did not know what to expect. But it made a great impression on us.
"Our shows this time will be a continuation of those we do in New York, London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris, but although multilingual the main language will be Dutch, because I'm amazed how many South Africans do understand it," says Van Veen. He even found that, after returning to Holland last time, he started using Africanised expressions in Dutch!
When writing prose or poetry. Van Veen identifies the right sounds which should accompany it. To him a poem is only totally beautiful if it has an inherent rhythm and because he's also a musician, melody and harmony are never far away. "Working in theatre, it can take up to 10 years to bring an idea to fruition. Often it is a process of dismantling. At the end, an elementary .gesture of the hand can mean much more than the whole cacophony of ideas which preceded it. The process is always the same."

Van Veen's philosophical outlook extends to all spheres and on that level he's often compared to the late Jacques Brel.
"Brel had, from day one, an enormous impact on me - in particular his melancholy view of reality He had the mind of a seagull. It cuts through the dark sky It makes as it were darkness visible. It can go over that boundary, but it has no hope at all. That is the beauty of tragedy, the magisterial aspect of loss."