War and Turpentine

Jan Lauwers is making a stage adaptation of Stefan Hertmans’ compelling epic War and Turpentine.

For some people, no life is long enough to recover from the shock of love, not even if they live to be nearly a hundred.
– Stefan Hertmans

Just before he died in the 1980s, Stefan Hertmans’ grandfather gave his grandson a couple of old exercise books full of writing. His grandfather’s life turned out to have been marked by an impoverished childhood in pre-1900 Ghent, horrifying experiences as a soldier at the front in the First World War, and a great love who died young. In the rest of his life he transformed his sorrow into tranquil paintings. Stefan Hertmans’ years of fascination with his grandfather’s life ultimately led him to take up his pen and write this moving novel.

Jan Lauwers presents a personal vision of the book, seizing on Hertmans’ story to create an intense show about the advance of industrialisation, the violence of the Great War, love, happiness, sorrow and the secrets of a human life, set to a new composition by Rombout Willems.

Together with the Province of West Flanders and GoodPlanet Belgium Needcompany also developed an educational programme in which 120 pupils and youngsters of ethnic backgrounds who are learning Dutch came from six secondary schools to take part in a study day on ‘Art and Memory’ at our rehearsal studio in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek before watching the performance in their home town. Het Peloton production company made 3 short films of this unique experience. You can watch film 1, film 2 and film 3 on vimeo.


Directing, set design, stage adaptation Jan Lauwers
Based on the novel “War and Turpentine” by Stefan Hertmans, published by Harvill Secker
Music Rombout Willems

Viviane De Muynck
First Sergeant-Major Urbain Joseph Emile Martien – Benoît Gob
The Angel of History – Grace Ellen Barkey
Worker, Soldier, Maria Emelia Ghys – Sarah Lutz
Worker, Soldier, Maria Emelia Martien – Romy Louise Lauwers (replaces Mélissa Guérin)
Worker, Soldier, Relative – Elik Niv
Worker, Soldier, Relative – Maarten Seghers
Worker, Soldier, Relative – Yonier Camilo Mejia (replaces Mohamed Toukabri)
General, pianist – Alain Franco, Claire Chevallier
Chaplain, cellist – Simon Lenski
Soldier, violinist – George van Dam

All the paintings and drawings are by Benoît Gob
Costumes Lot Lemm
Dramaturgy, subtitling Elke Janssens
Lighting design Ken Hioco
Sound Ditten Lerooij, Dries D’Hondt
Production Management Marjolein Demey

P.U.L.S. Stage Bosse Provoost
Costume Assistant Lieve Meeussen
Fencing Instructor Jacques Cappelle
Trainee Josephine Dapaah
Set Building Toneelhuis
Set Dressing Simon Callens
Logistical Support Irmgard Mertens
Set, lighting Saul Mombaerts, Tijs Michiels
Dramaturgical introduction Erwin Jans
Press Agent Liesbet Waegemans for Panache
Photography Maarten Vanden Abeele

English translation of ‘War and Turpentine’ by David McKay

Tax Shelter financing:
Casa Kafka Pictures empowered by Belfius
Isabelle Molhant, Valérie Daems, Christel Simons

A Needcompany production. Coproduction: Toneelhuis (Antwerp), Festival de Marseille and Province of West Flanders. Produced with the support of the Belgian Federal Government’s Tax Shelter and the Flemish authorities.