Adapting Herman Hesse's novel 'Narcissus and Goldmund' to the theatre poses a difficult challenge. Hesse's novel, set in Medieval Germany, sets up a juxtaposition of archetypal characters: Narcissus the cerebral, ascetic scholar, and Goldmund the restless, sensual artist. Thematically, they embody Nietzsche's theory of the Apollonian versus Dionysian.
Meeting in the monastery as young boys, Narcissus and Goldmund become friends, in spite of (or precisely because) they recognize their opposites in each other. While Narcissus devotes himself to monastery life, Goldmund sets out on a wandering life of amorous adventures, immersing himself fully in worldly pleasures and pains.
It is not until many years later that, both greatly changed, they meet again and reflect on the vastly different lives they have led. And they find that, ultimately, there is a kind of synthesis to their opposites. As Narcissus puts it:
You should not envy me, Goldmund. There is no peace of the sort you imagine. Oh, there is peace of course, but not anything that lives within us constantly and never leaves us. There is only the peace that must be won again and again, each new day of our lives. You don't see my fight, you don't know my struggles as Abbot, my struggles in the prayer cell. A good thing you don't. You only see that I am less subject to moods than you, and you take that for peace. But my life is struggle; it is struggle and sacrifice like every decent life; like yours, too.
The Toneelschuur production 'Narziss & Goldmund' has managed to find theatrical devices to communicate the essence of this difficult story. Though the try-out still had some hiccups, it easily kept the audience's interest for its full two hours duration.
They play is acted by three actors who shift in and out of the different roles. Though for most of the time there is one Narcissus and one Goldmund, all three seem to wrestle with the same problems of the duality of spirit and flesh. In a sense, the play is about actors trying to understand their roles. As they try them on to see which one fits best, it becomes a great visualization of the soul-searching at the heart of Hesse's novel.