Ethical dilemmas are rewarding material for theatre. The play ‘Marked!’ shows a wide margin between good and evil in World War II.
© Photos: Moon Saris
This good and evil refers to the signing of the oath of loyalty – or refusal thereof, a choice which all academic students in the Netherlands were forced to make by the German occupier in the spring of 1943. Signing meant one could continue to study, while refusing led to hiding or German labour camps. The academic life, which had been relatively calm up to that point, had been thoroughly shook up by the oath of loyalty.
A great starting point for theatre. But the audience at the Junushoff had to wait quite a bit for it. The first thirty minutes of Marked! are spent on the light-hearted and farcical discussion of who will attend the ball with whom. Farcical, yet never truly funny. It is very functional to introduce the audience to the thirteen students they will need to discern. Functional to show the contrast between the situations before and after the oath. But after half an hour, you start wondering whether you are watching the right play.
And then, it suddenly starts. The group, which was so close up to that point, is utterly split by the oath of loyalty. The arguments whether to sign or not are brought in beautiful dialogues. But it turns out to be much more complicated. Whom should one listen to? The government across the sea: ‘Signing is treason!’ The questionable rector: ‘Sign!’ The coercing father: ‘A Van der Heijden does not sign, he spreads pamphlets!’ Or the head of the church: ‘Follow your own conscience!’
Marked! is performed by a few professional actors supported by WUR students and employees. The play was written a few year ago for Delft University of Technology and was adapted to make it more suitable for Wageningen. This has only been partly successful. For example, the first thirty minutes of the play (the farcical courtship) take place in the fencing scene of Ceres. An interesting choice, as fencing is not known for being a student sport in Wageningen. Perhaps rowing would have been a more realistic choice.
Director Albert van Andel can be proud of the acting performances. The actors of opportunity – students and two employees, including professor and Dean of Education Arnold Bregt – are in no way inferior to their professional colleagues. It was a challenge to discern the ‘true’, even. Screen writer Reinier Noordzij skilfully brings the play to a surprising final: signing to support the resistance. How that works is something the readers should go see for themselves. But the ending is not very realistic. The student resistance in Wageningen was not much to speak of.
Altogether, Marked! can be seen as a success. The play offers the possibility of empathising with the core of the story: what choice would one make given the situation? Because despite all the shades of grey, students were eventually forced to choose between black and white. In Wageningen, 154 of the 700 students eventually signed the oath. A small minority, but one who was marked for life by this choice.
‘Getekend!’/’Marked!’ plays every evening in the Junushoff until Wednesday. The play is accompanied by English surtitles. The entrance fee is 20 euros; 10 euros for students. Groups of eight or more pay 15 euros. The play commences at 20:15.