Swedish drama

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Plays

Creditors (trans. Greig)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Anxiously awaiting the return of his new wife, Adolph finds solace in the words of a stranger. But comfort soon turns to destruction as old wounds are opened, insecurities are laid bare and former debts are settled.

Regarded as Strindberg's most mature work, Creditors is a darkly comic tale of obsession, honour and revenge. David Greig's version premiered at the Donmar Warehouse, London, in September 2008.

The Dance of Death (Conor McPherson)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Conor McPherson's adaptation of August Strindberg’s 1900 play The Dance of Death, about a titanic battle of wills between a husband and wife, was first performed at the Trafalgar Studios, London, on 13 December 2012.

On an isolated island, military captain Edgar and his wife Alice live a bitter life, their marriage soured by hatred. When the possibility of redemption and escape arrives for Alice in the shape of their former comrade Kurt, it seems that Edgar is prepared to use his very last breath to make their lives a living hell.

The premiere at Trafalgar Studios was part of the Donmar Trafalgar season designed to showcase the work of graduates from the theatre’s Resident Assistant Director scheme. The production was directed by Titus Halder and designed by Richard Kent, with Indira Varma as Alice, Kevin R. McNally as the Captain (Edgar) and Daniel Lapaine as Kurt.

The play was first performed in the US at Writers Theatre, Glencoe, Chicago, on 1 April 2014 in a production directed by Henry Wishcamper.

Julie (adapt. Harris)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

In the oppressive heat of Midsummer's Eve, Julie, daughter of the lord, is drawn into a dangerous tryst with her father's butler. As the night wears on, the couple, from opposite ends of the social spectrum, dance, flirt and fight towards an explosive conclusion that will shake the existing order to its core.

Zinnie Harris's new version of Strindberg's nineteenth-century masterpiece, Miss Julie, relocates the play to central Scotland between the wars.

The play premiered at Platform, Easterhouse, in a National Theatre of Scotland Ensemble production in September 2006.

Let the Right One In

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Let the Right One In is based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Låt den rätte komma in, 2004) and the subsequent Swedish-language film version (dir. Tomas Alfredson, 2008, with a screenplay by Lindqvist). It is a dark and visceral coming-of-age vampire love story tackling issues of teenage loneliness, bullying and sexuality.

It was commissioned by the National Theatre of Scotland and Marla Rubin Productions Ltd, and first produced by the National Theatre of Scotland by arrangement with Marla Rubin Productions Ltd and Bill Kenwright, in association with Dundee Rep Theatre, at Dundee Rep Theatre on 5 June 2013. It was subsequently produced at the Royal Court Theatre, London, and in the West End.

The play begins with a man being attacked on a woodland path. Then we meet Oskar, a lonely teenage boy who lives with his mother on a housing estate at the edge of town, and who is being badly bullied at school. News spreads through the neighbourhood of a spate of sinister killings. But Oskar is drawn to Eli, the young girl who has just moved in next door. Eli doesn’t go to school, and never leaves the flat by day. Sensing in each other a kindred spirit, the two become devoted friends. What Oskar doesn’t know is that Eli has been a teenager for a very long time.

Thorne's adaptation focuses on the close bond between the two misfit teenagers as their friendship blossoms into a tentative romance. He also gives a perhaps greater emphasis than Lindqvist to the bullying that Oskar receives at the hands of his classmates, developing the irony at the heart of the story: Eli might not be human, but she shows Oskar a human kindness that seems lacking in others around him.

The premiere production at Dundee Rep was directed by John Tiffany with choreography by associate director Steven Hoggett. It was designed by Christine Jones. The cast included Rebecca Benson as Eli and Martin Quinn as Oskar.

The production opened at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, on 29 November 2013, and transferred to the Apollo Theatre, London, on 7 April 2014 (previews from 26 March).

The production won the 2014 South Bank Sky Arts Award for Theatre.

Miss Julie (trans. Eldridge)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A conflict of sexual passion and social position that is jagged and gripping. Miss Julie is shocking in subject-matter, revolutionary in technique, and was fiercely attacked on publication for immorality.

It is Midsummer in Sweden and Miss Julie, the Count’s daughter, appears in the kitchen, confronting her father’s valet Jean. The restless and electric exchanges between them are a snarl of seduction and contempt, their unseen sexual transgression undoing the restrictions of servility and hierarchy. Strindberg writes with disdain of a woman deformed by her belief that she is equal to man, but Miss Julie emerges as a compellingly mercurial character, tense and hysterical and tragic.

Written in a fortnight and often regarded as Strindberg's masterpiece, the play's premiere at Strindberg's experimental theatre in Denmark in 1889 was banned by the censor and its first public production three years later in Berlin aroused such protests that it was withdrawn after one performance. David Eldridge’s contemporary and faithful translation was first performed in 2012 at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Swedish theatre shows enormous vitality but suffers from alarming uncertainty about its funding base. With a population of over 8.5 million and over 4 million paid attendances a year, Sweden has three national theatres, 31 regional or municipal theatres, and about 100 alternative theatre and dance companies, all receiving or eligible for some degree of public subsidy. Until the last years of the twentieth century commercial productions and business sponsorships were relatively infrequent, and the assumption of Swedish cultural policy has been that permanent, serious theatre cannot survive on box-office takings alone. Approximately 17 per cent of central government funding on culture goes to theatre and dance (compared with just over 3 per cent to film, radio and television, and 23 per cent to adult education). This partly reflects a tradition of centuries of royal patronage that included the founding of the Royal Theatre (1771, now housing the national opera and ballet) and the Royal Dramatic Theatre, or Dramaten (1788), which, thanks to its huge resources, still dominates the production of spoken drama. However, by the time of Sweden’s most influential dramatist August Strindberg, the most progressive repertoire and production practices were often to be found in private, commercial theatres, which flourished as public funding declined. Strindberg pioneered the introduction into Sweden of symbolist aesthetics, through his dream plays and the chamber plays he wrote for the Intimate Theatre. Nevertheless, despite his plays’ domination of the Swedish repertoire of the early twentieth century, and significant modernist initiatives by such pioneers as director Per Lindeberg (1890–1944) and playwright Par Lagerkvist, the pervading early twentieth-century aesthetic was realist, reaching levels of sophistication that resulted in Dramaten giving the world premières of several of Eugene O'Neill’s late plays, such as Long Day’s Journey Into Night in 1956, directed by Olof Molander (1892– 1966). Social Democratic governments in the 1920s and 1930s made the subsidy of theatre a core element in their creation of the Swedish welfare state. Emphasis on the decentralized distribution of theatre included the creation of the National Touring Theatre (1934), which now gives over 1,300 performances annually; the opening of a number of municipal theatres in major cities; and, later, the establishment of the regional theatres that now serve almost every county in Sweden. Generous public funding in the 1960s and 1970s fostered the development of over 200 so-called ‘free groups’, many doing theatre for young audiences, many with overtly left-wing or counter-cultural agendas. The late 1980s and 1990s saw public funding compromised by worsening economic conditions and changing politics. The free groups and alternative theatres are now much fewer, though several (such as the Orion Theatre and Teater Galeasen) have become nationally important for the development and premièring of innovative work. While the national theatres continue to be relatively secure, even Dramaten had to reduce staff in the late 1990s. Meanwhile, threats to regional companies that depend on local subsidy are exemplified in Sweden’s second city, Göteborg, where, in 1997, municipal politicians threatened to close the Municipal Theatre (founded in 1917, and one of the country’s largest). Sweden remains a world leader in creating theatre for young audiences, especially theatre that treats the young as serious, thoughtful spectators. Foremost in a large field have been the Young Klara, Stockholm (led since its founding in 1975 by Suzanne Osten) and Backa Theatre (a section of the Göteborg Municipal Theatre, led by Eva Bergman). Swedish amateur theatre has also continued to have particular vitality, and community productions, such as the 1997 Norberg Strike, showed an early lead in developing the kind of community plays later popularized in Britain and North America by the Colway Trust. The creativity of Swedish theatre remains vital and progressive, with important and innovative new plays from such writers as Mattias Andersson, Magnus Dahlström, Katarina Frostenson, Jonas Gardell, Margareta Garpe, Staffan Göthe, Stig Larsson, Lars Norén, Barbro Smeds, and Thomas Tidholm. Acclaim for the brilliant directorial work of Ingmar Bergman seemed to overshadow the work of younger directors well into the 1990s, but his gradual retirement has brought into clearer perspective the work of such talented artists as Peter Oskarson, Karl Dunér, Mats Ek (also a writer and choreographer), Pia Forsgren, Rickard Günther, Staffan Valdemar Holm, Kajsa Isaksson, Lars Rudolfsson and Linus Tunström.

from Harry Lane, The Continnum Companion to Twentieth Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).