Tuesday, July 05, 2011

First English Production of 'Dutch Family'

Photographs (top to bottom):

1. Memorial to the Jewish citizens of Amsterdam of WW2

2. The National Monument, Dam Square, Amsterdam.

3. Poster advertising 'Dutch Family' by A. Defresne (1946)

Courtesy of 'The Whitehaven News'
& Cumbria County Archives, Whitehaven

For additional information click on 'Comments' below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(1) Introduction

The play 'Dutch Family' was written during the war by the Dutch playwright and actor August Defresne (as his surname is written in Dutch). The play deals with how the members of one Dutch family resisted the Germans during the wartime Occupation. On Friday 15 March 1946 the English language premiere of the 'Dutch Family' took place on the stage at the Kells Miners Welfare, Whitehaven, Cumberland. A poster advertising the play is shown above (Photograph No 3).

V.E. Day (Victory in Europe Day) had been less than a year before 'Dutch Family' was produced on a British stage for the first time. For most of those in the audience, in a land that had managed to remain free, it would have been the first time they would have been able to appreciate what it was really like to live in an Occupied land.

While the play received its English language premiere in a relatively small theatre is unclear. Afterwards 'Dutch Family' was to be taken to other provincial theatres and then to London's West End. The production was supported by the Arts Council.

(2) What is the subject of 'Dutch Family'?

The year: 1942

The place: German - Occupied Netherlands

The principal characters: A "law abiding" Dutch family.

The opening situation: The irrepressible younger son of the family is involved with the Dutch underground. The father - as head of the 'Dutch family' - does not know of his son's involvement in the resistance.

The father of the eponymous 'Dutch Family' learns about the son's involvement with the Dutch Resistance. Then he learns that all the household members have been working against the Occupying invader and for the Dutch resistance. Even the 'char woman' has been involved.

Is there a risk? Yes, they know there is, but the family disregard it. Danger threatens all around. But, it is a mere nothing. The family laugh and make light of the situation to get through the trials and tribulations of the Occupation.

Disaster, is however, not far away. Towards the end of the play the young son is betrayed. He meets an inevitable end ......

While the play is a fictional tale, nevertheless it represents the situation that the playwright (August Defresne) and the Dutch people were living through at the time it was written. August Defresne was wanted by the Gestapo but he always managed to evade them. He was one of the leaders of the Dutch dramatic artists, prominent in the Dutch resistance and a regular contributor to the Dutch 'underground' newspapers.

The manuscript for this play was written on a miniature writing pad and hidden down a crack in a wooden attic floor. At no little risk, three copies of the transcript were subsequently typed out. This meant the manuscript could be read to his friends.

For the Dutch Jewish community the situation was even worse than for the rest of the population. They were rounded up and deported to the Concentration Camps of Eastern Europe. Most of the Dutch Jewish community never returned. Another play written in secret by August Defresne during the war dealt with the Holocaust. This play was also produced in the post-war period.

Sunday, 17 July, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(3) The Dutch remember the war victims

In the postwar years the Dutch people have established a 'National Remembrance Day' (May 4th). This is the day the Dutch people - as one Dutch family - remember the victims of the Second World War war and, on the same day, they commemorate the Liberation and Peace.

Peace - this is an important, hard-earned value that has to be cherished. The 4th of May in the Netherlands has become embedded in the Dutch calendar as an important day in the life of the nation.

Ten years after the English language premiere of 'Dutch Family' - on 4 May 1946 to be exact - the Dutch National Monument was dedicated by Queen Juliana (at that time the reigning monarch). Situated in the centre of Dam Square, Amsterdam this is a both a memorial to the victims of WW2 and a monument to peace and liberation. The National Monument can be seen in one of the photographs above (Photograph No 2).

The obelisk includes the following figures:

Four male figures (representing war)

A woman and child (representing peace)

Two men with dogs (representing resistance).

Since the monument was unveiled in 1946 several thousands of people participate in a "silent tour" (Stille Tocht) from the WW2 Museum at Museumplein to Dam Square, where the reigning monarch and other important dignitaries each place a wreath at the National Monument at 8.00 pm. There then follows a two-minute silence to honour the Fallen.

After this evening of national solemn remembrance the following day - May 5th - is a day of celebration: Liberation Day, or in the Dutch language, "Bevrijdingsdag". Liberation Day in the Netherlands is a nationwide celebration of the Netherlands' emancipation from Nazi Germany by Allied troops in 1945. It is a national event that is fêted with concerts, exhibits and a celebration of the hard-won peace that came out of the war.

Near the old Jewish quarter of Amsterdam there is also a monument to commemorate the sacrifice of the Dutch Jewish community who suffered so dreadfully during the years of Occupation (Photograph No 1 above). This photograph was taken from one of Amserdam's many canal boats.

The words inscribed on the memorial are in Dutch and Hebrew.

This is the inscription in the Dutch language:

"Ter herinnering aan het verzet van de Joodse Burgers, gevallen in 1940 - 1945
5700 - 5705"

This is an English translation:

"In memory of the resistance of the Jewish citizens, killed in 1940 - 1945
5700 - 5705"

The dates of the Occupation are given in both the Christian (or 'Common Era') calendar (1940 - 1945) and the Jewish calendar (5700 - 5705).

(4) August Defresne (1893 - 1961)

Maria André Antoine August Defresne was a playwright, director and stage manager. Born in Maastricht on 6 November 1893 was the son of Maria Hubert André Alphonsius Defresne (by profession a wine and spirit merchant) and Johanna Maria Angelina Defresne (née Burgers). On 14 December 1920 August Defresne married his first wife Charlotte Theresia Catharina Köhler. They divorced on 19 June 1937. Shortly after the Dutch Liberation, on 22 June 1945 August Defresne was married for the second time - to Anna Charlotte Ruij. There were no children born of either marriage.

August Defresne died of a heart attack on 2 April 1961. He was 67 years old. At least it was a different end to the one the Gestapo had in mind for him during the Occupation.

An annual award by the Dutch Association of theatre artists was named in memory of August Defresne. The 'Defresne Prize' is awarded for the 'Best Performance Director' in the Dutch theatre.

[Thanks to Mr Arjan Wemmers, a WW2 researcher from the Molenaarsgraaf area, Netherlands for assistance with the information about August Defresne]

Sunday, 17 July, 2011  

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