Writer: Anoek Nuyens
Director: Marjolein van Heemstra
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Anoek Nuyens was very excited when her great-aunt handed on to her the charity she’d been running for half a century. Anoek saw the opportunity to change lives in some of the most poverty-stricken and war-torn parts of Africa, she was keen to do good, to make a real difference. Great-aunt Maria never set foot in Africa. Instead she ran the charity from behind a desk at her home in the Netherlands, responding to requests from organisations and individuals across the continent, and occasionally visiting the Africa Museum in Berg en Dal for some inspiration.
As Anoek started to plough her way through the archive, some doubts started to creep in. Without her great-aunt’s Catholic faith she started to look at the issues through a more pragmatic lens. She read a huge pile of academic books about the undermining effects of foreign aid, the need for trade development and more sustainable solutions to poverty relief. She began to feel cynical about the repeat grants to individuals, the way her aunt considered a problem solved by sending enough money for bandages, or education, or hospital beds. A trip to Kenya to see at first hand a hospital supported by the foundation only makes matters worse. After an exhausting three-hour taxi ride to Kipkelion, Anoek finds the hospital freshly painted and spotless, but locked and empty. She calls a meeting – because that’s how Europeans go about these things – to encourage the local people to share their thoughts on re-opening the hospital, but every suggestion seems to be countered with an insurmountable problem.
Help is in Manchester as part of the Sick! Festival, and it couldn’t fall on a more auspicious night, as the UK population once again turns its TVs on for Comic Relief. Help reminds us of the fact that we’ve been sending relief to the Third World for decades, and yet the challenges just seem to get harder. Anoek questions whether helping one individual has any lasting impact, if aid just breeds dependency, and, perhaps the most fundamental question of all – is charity about the recipient, or about the giver?
Anoek Nuyens is a compelling storyteller. Help is her personal story, infused with her doubt, her frustration and – occasionally – with moments of joy. She tells it with passion and honesty, and it’s a moving and thoughtful piece of performance. As a backdrop, Anoek shows Michiel Cotterink’s surprisingly engaging real-time film of the Kenyan villagers arriving for the meeting, families sitting on a hilltop, shading themselves from the sun. Throughout her story, they watch us as we watch them – a great equaliser. Help is a performance lecture, a thought-provoking and powerful piece of theatre that raises more questions than it answers. At the end, a woman who has been sitting on the front row as one of us (Jet Van Helbergen) stands and sings an achingly beautiful (possibly Schubert) song before Anoek invites everyone to share a drink with her, pouring wine into plastic glasses. People gather around her and chat, sharing stories.
Reviewed on 24 March 2017 | Image: Contributed