A woman walks into the room carrying a serving tray. She sets the table for two. She pours tea. She sits. She waits. Then a man enters the room. He undresses, folds his clothes neatly and gets into bed. The man and woman look at one another, briefly. There is no contact. Then somebody else comes in – a woman who drinks from a glass as she leans against the door jamb. Then a man joins them. He seats himself next to the woman at the table. They stir their tea in silence. Then another person comes in, then another, and then another, until the room is packed – populated by seventeen characters, each of them going about their own life. We see worn out marriages, new loves, the lonely and an elderly man. It’s as if the inhabitants of some random street have come together in this single room. They do their best to conduct their everyday routines, and become confused when they are unsuccessful. And then chaos strikes.



In Het Leven een Gebruiksaanwijzing (HLEG) Ahlbom presents a micro-community set adrift, with people doing their utmost to get out of their rut, but seldom succeeding. The play takes its title from George Perec’s 1978 classic La Vie mode d’emploi which details the lives of the occupants of a French apartment complex. In this complex, living composition of human beings, Ahlbom shows just how attached we are to our routines, how they smother us but also offer us support and beauty. The spectator is placed in the role of voyeur: without embarrassment we watch the lives of these unwitting folk unfold.


Ahlbom drew inspiration for this play from the eight-minute animated film Tango by Polish director Zbigniew Rybczynski, who filmed several people performing simple actions, looped the results and montaged them to create an increasingly hectic scene in a living room. The film won Rybczynski an Oscar in 1983.
Ahlbom selected a mix of professionals, interns and extras – seventeen entirely different personalities – for his play. They are symbols for him of the daily grind people get stuck in for fear of taking risks. Once it’s become too busy in the room they can no longer go about their routines. They crash into one another, kiss the wrong partner or make one another laugh, creating change through chaos.

Het Leven een Gebruiksaanwijzing was performed on-site for three successive weeks at Dansmakers aan het IJ theatre in North Amsterdam.

In the media

“An orgy of quarrelling, sex and pleasure … although funny, the humour remains subtle in this cleverly and tightly directed choreography.”
Het Parool
“Ahlbom creates a world that is alienating, moving, funny and tragic.”
De Telegraaf
‘A poignant poetic portrait of human impotence and loneliness.”
“You might best describe Ahlbom as the Alex van Warmerdam of physical theatre. Or else a cross between Christoph Marthaler and Robert Wilson. … the developing human composition is like a fugue of actions built up with a Bach-like austere beauty … An extraordinary site-specific piece.”
De Groene Amsterdammer
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Director: Jakop Ahlbom
Dramaturge: Judith Wendel Music: Leonard Lucieer/Alamo Race Track Cast: Inez Almeida, Raoul Dumas, Luc van Esch, Karlijn Hamer, Judith Hazeleger, Alfred Heppener, Marje Hirvonen, Sofieke de Kater, Judith de Lange, Gwen Langenberg, Thomas van Ouwerkerk, Jakob Proyer, Lotte Rischen, Rocco Vermijs, Lena Visser, Shane Wezenberg, Bas Zemering
Repetiteurs: Silke Hundertmark, Reinier Schimmel Stage design: Remco Gianotten Lighting design and Technician: Yuri Schreuders Costumes: Nicolien de Jong Chief technician: Colin Kassies
Management: Wilma Kuite/Alles voor de Kunsten
Production: Janneke den Engelsen, Nienke Mur, Mels Kroon
Volunteer coordinator: Maud van Boven
Box office coordinator: Rini Feenstra
Publicity: Christel Gouweleeuw/Alles voor de Kunsten
Campaign image and Graphic design: Lemz/Pepijn Rooijens
Poster photograph: Vincent van Gurp
Stage photography: Sanne Peper
Thanks to: Jan Boelo, Esprit, Nikkie and Betsy Palmer

Made possible by financial support from: Fonds Podiumkunsten en de Gemeente Amsterdam

Performance dates

No current performances

Première: wed 8 may 2013
performance period: mon 6 & thu 7 (try-outs) to Sun 26 May 2013, 21:00.
Matinees on Fri 10, Sun 19, Sun 26 May, 15:00.
Venue: Dansmakers aan t IJ, Gedempt Hamerkanaal 203-205, North Amsterdam