In an intimate setting, Chaplain Odekerke’s rich Roman life would come into its own ★★★ ☆☆

Ensemble number in Diary of a SheepdogPicture Roy Beusker

The Koninklijke Harmonie Sainte Cécile from Eijsden is just about to start, and the audience claps enthusiastically. It is in moments like these that it becomes clear what the Limburgers are mainly expecting from a spectacular musical: harmony! In this new Dutch musical A sheepdog diary the orchestra turns on and off a few times. In addition, there is a real horse, an old Ford, a school class with children and a procession of acolytes.

The rich Roman life in Limburg woke up last Sunday during the premiere of this mega-production at the MECC Conference Center in Maastricht. Producers Albert Verlinde and Toneelgroep Maastricht have been working hard in recent months on the realization of this performance, which aims to meet all kinds of nostalgic feelings among those over 50s as well as appeal to a younger audience.

At least that’s what screenwriter André Breedland has set himself: the hugely popular TV series of the 1970s A sheepdog diary give it a big makeover. Willy van Hemert wrote and directed the series as an ode to Limburg’s village life in 1914, which was dominated by the Catholic Church and the beginning of industrialization, in this case the emergence of the coal mines.

The musical begins in 1965 with the historical images of Joop den Uyl’s speech announcing the closure of the mines. Then we go back in time, to 1914, when the young assistant priest Erik Odekerke (Joes Brauers) makes his appearance in Sydlimburg. He ends up in a closed community where the church rules. But immediately in the first scene, a spark jumps between him and the girl Miete (Nandi van Beurden). Because of celibacy, nothing is allowed to grow under his box, and at the same time you give him everything.

Fortunately, Erik has a guardian angel (Angela Schijf) who follows him on his difficult path. Breedveld has incorporated modernity into her: she uses the Tikkie payment method, and if she does not like anything, she just pees holy water. And oh yes, she also throws herself into being the master of homosexuals, ‘because homosexuals do no damn harm’. In that sense, William Spaai’s role as chaplain Lumens is interesting because he confesses to Erik his predilection for men. As a boy, he attended the infamous Rolduc seminar, you know?

Eventually Erik Odekerke finds his niche, the mines open up and the village community is disturbed. Pastoralism disappears, capitalism takes its place, and in response the socialist movement. When it is now 1919 at the end, the violent death of a village boy must also be solved, Diary right out of balance. Much is told, but quite fragmented. What is also worrying is that serious issues often become invalidated by light-hearted folk theater. After the poor working conditions in the mines (boot lungs, broken hands) we suddenly find ourselves in a cozy village market.

Ad van Dijk’s music is a mixture of beautiful ensemble numbers, love duets and a single solo. At times compelling, sometimes a little obligatory. It is occasional The miserable in Limburgish (the slobs), with a little bit Billy Elliot (the miners), and here and there a nod to the traditional Dutch musicals by Schmidt and Bannink (the love duets).

For spectacle, director Servé Hermans has mainly worked with a lot of extras in the massive ensemble numbers. Moreover, it has been kept remarkably sober, with a few projections of the Limburg landscape on the enormous backdrop. If possible, the decor is even simpler: A couple of mobile seats represent the village pub, the brewery, the living room and of course the rectory and the Mary Chapel.

The strength of this production lies mainly in the artists. Joes Brauers plays chaplain Odekerke with a boyish flair and charm, thankfully not clumsy, but determined. They also prove here that his opponents Nandi van Beurden and William Spaaij are true all-round musical performers: Van Beurden has a couple of wonderful solos, and Spaaij is very funny as a prankster with a penchant for opera. Suzan Seegers is the audience favorite as the fiery housekeeper Katrien, and rightly so: she’s a lot of fun.

A sheepdog diary is a remarkable collaboration between a commercial producer and a supported theater company. A good thing, especially if that company has set itself the task of telling recognizable stories in their own region. In that sense, Servé Herman’s previous performances at Toneelgroep Maastricht, such as Pinkpop and Emma, also over the mines, and also with a harmony. But where those productions were manageable, the saying goes here: big, bigger, biggest. Still, it could well be that the story of Chaplain Erik and the Limburgish past would come into its own better in a more intimate setting than in an uninviting hall with 1,800 folding chairs.

Ko van Dijk

At the premiere of A sheepdog diary Jo De Meyere and Bruni Heinke were guests of honor. At the time, they played the roles of chaplain Erik and Miete in the KRO TV series, which was produced by Joop van den Ende. After the successful first season, it was decided to continue with another eight episodes. During the filming of this, actor Ko van Dijk, who played one of the lead roles, died suddenly. Willy van Hemert then decided to write his character from the series. Instead, a new role was created for the then very young Renée Soutendijk.

A sheepdog diary


By Albert Verlinde Productions and Toneelgroep Maastricht; lyrics by André Breedland, music by Ad van Dijk, directed by Serve Hermans.

8/5 MECC Maastricht. See you in the coming months.

Angela Disc as Guardian Angel Statue Roy Beusker

Angela Disc as guardian angelPicture Roy Beusker

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