Billy’s Joy

“Following Billy’s Violence, which dealt with tragedies, I was asked to write a comedy based on Shakespeare’s comedies. I wanted to write about ‘reconciliation’. It is a central theme in the comedies. But reconciliation proved impossible without love! So, I pulled Romeo, that ‘star-cross’d lover’, out of his tragic story and brought him to the place of our comedy: Fairyland. Fairyland, however, turns out to be torn apart and ravaged by fragmentation. Having arrived, Romeo loses his language. Henceforth, he speaks hybrid English, or ‘Globic’. He goes in search of his beloved JULIET. But JULIET has been expelled from the Symbolic Order, from the edifice of narrative itself! Still, Romeo wants to fulfil his narrative destiny by turning himself aside: he wants to turn himself aside to overcome that which separates him from JULIET in death (primarily political divisions and global warming). But… Romeo cannot kill himself because he is in a comedy! Naked and isolated, Romeo must keep looking for love until someone ends him… That someone is Bolingbroke, later Henry IV from the King’s Dramas. Romeo becomes Richard II and they share each other’s fate: Romeo, lovingly disowned, and Richard, lovelessly deposed.

Billy’s Joy: a liquid comedy, a ‘HYSTORY’, a battle of attrition. Something is rotten in Fairyland!”

– Victor Lauwers

Shakespeare has been a controversial artist for over 400 years. Sometimes he is the greatest ever, other times he is dismissed as an anti-Semitic mysoginist who especially got a kick out of conceiving violent scenes. That’s what Billy’s Violence covered extensively. In the eighteenth century, people detested the violence and dark twists in his tragedies. Consequently, these were shamelessly rewritten. Romeo and Juliet lived happily ever after! This inspired Needcompany to ask Victor Afung Lauwers to read the comedies and see what they can still mean in our time – a time of great controversies, vulgar polemics, cancel culture, structural racism, climate change, war. What is there left to laugh at? Is humour the coward’s weapon or a form of activism?

“The essential difference between Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies is that the comedies are not funny. The pages of the comedies are a collection of prisms of eroticism, ranging from pastiche to obscurity. It can be said that tragedy is a pornography of human suffering and comedy veils suffering with human happiness.

Little can be said about the relevance of Shakespeare. In fact, performances of canonical texts like Shakespeare’s have long ceased to be necessary. It is therefore not my intention to present a repertory piece. Rather, I am concerned with history – that is; with our mistakes. Those who do not want to know the past do not want to know themselves.”

– Victor Afung Lauwers


Text Victor Afung Lauwers
Music Maarten Seghers
Creation Jan Lauwers, Grace Ellen Barkey, Emily Hehl, Nao Albet, Gonzalo Cunill, Romy Louise Lauwers, Juan Navarro, Maarten Seghers, Meron Verbelen, Martha Gardner

Dramaturgy Elke Janssens
Technical direction & light Koen De Saeger
Technical crew Jannes Dierynck, Raphael Noel, Jérémy Michel
Sound Ditten Lerooij
Props & costumes Charlotte Seeligmüller
Intern Luca van het Groenewoud
Company manager Pieter D’Hooghe

Production Needcompany
Co-production Impulstanz (Vienna), Perpodium, Le Quartz (Brest), Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre, CC Brugge, Teatro Español y Naves del Español en Matadero (Madrid), Teatro Central (Sevilla)
With the support of the Flemish government and Tax Shelter of the Belgian Federal Government through Cronos Invest