Norwegian drama

Plays

audio A Doll House

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Nora Helmer has everything a young housewife could want: beautiful children, an adoring husband, and a bright future. But when a carelessly buried secret rises from the past, Nora’s well-calibrated domestic ideal starts to crumble. Ibsen’s play is as fresh today as it was when it first stormed the stages of 19th-century Europe.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring:

Calista Flockhart as Nora Helmer

Tony Abatemarco as Dr. Rank

Tim Dekay as Torvald Helmer

Jeannie Elias as Anne-Marie/ Helene

Gregory Itzin as Nils Krogstad

Jobeth Williams as Mrs. Linde

Translated by Rolf Fjelde. Directed by Rosalind Ayres. Recorded before a live audience at the James Bridges Theater at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television in September, 2011.

Featuring: Tony Abatemarco, Tim DeKay, Jeannie Elias, Calista Flockhart, Gregory Itzin, JoBeth Williams

video A Doll’s House (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Henrik Ibsen struck an early blow for feminism in 1879 with this liberated tale of a wife who rebels. Juliet Stevenson plays Nora who finally revolts against her husband's perception of her as a doll-wife whose opinions count for nothing.

‘A new, pointedly ideological translation by Joan Tinsdale is both sharp and felicitous…Ibsen is served brilliantly’ New York Times.

‘Exceptionally acted’ L. A Times

Credits:

Director: David Thacker; Producer: Simon Curtis; Starring: Juliet Stevenson, Trevor Eve, Geraldine James, Patrick Malahide and David Calder.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

A Doll's House (trans. McGuinness)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Nora Helmer, wife to Torvald and mother of three children, appears to enjoy living the live of a pampered, indulged child. But as her economic dependence becomes brutally clear, Nora’s acceptance of the status quo undergoes a profound change. To the bewildered Torvald, himself caught in the tight web of a conservative society which demands that he exert strict control, Nora comes to see that the only possible true course of action is to leave the family home.

A Doll's House (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The slamming of the front door at the end of Ibsen’s delicate and electrifying play shatters the romantic masquerade of Nora and Torvald’s marriage. In their stultifying and infantilised relationship, they have deceived themselves and each other into thinking they are happy. But Nora’s concealment of a loan she had to take out for her husband’s sake forces their frivolous conversation to an irrevocable crisis, until Nora claims her right to individual freedom.

Ibsen’s 1879 play shocked its first audiences with its radical insights into the social roles of husband and wife. His portrayal of his flawed heroine, Nora, remains one of the most striking dramatic depictions of late-nineteenth century woman.

This version is translated by Michael Meyer, and was first performed in 1964 at the Playhouse, Oxford.

A Doll’s House (trans. Meyer; Student Edition)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

This Student Edition of A Doll's House provides a wealth of scholarly information, annotation and background to aid the study of Ibsen's seminal play.

The slamming of the front door at the end of Ibsen’s electrifying play shatters the romantic masquerade of Nora and Torvald’s marriage. In their stultifying and infantilised relationship, they have deceived themselves and each other into thinking they are happy. But Nora’s concealment of a loan she had to take out for her husband’s sake forces their frivolous conversation to an irrevocable crisis, until Nora claims her right to individual freedom.

Ibsen’s 1879 play shocked its first audiences with its radical insights into the social roles of husband and wife. His portrayal of his flawed heroine, Nora, remains one of the most striking dramatic depictions of late-nineteenth century woman.

This version is translated by Michael Meyer, and was first performed in 1964 at the Playhouse, Oxford.

A Doll's House (trans. Stephens)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The slamming of the front door at the end of Ibsen’s delicate and electrifying play shatters the romantic masquerade of the Nora and Torvald’s marriage. In their stultifying and infantilised relationship, they have deceived themselves and each other into thinking they are happy. But Nora’s concealment of a loan she had to take out for her husband’s sake forces their frivolous conversation to an irrevocable crisis, until Nora claims her right to individual freedom.

Ibsen’s 1879 play shocked its first audiences with its radical insights into the social roles of husband and wife. His portrayal of his flawed heroine, Nora, remains one of the most striking dramatic depictions of late-nineteenth century woman.

This version is translated by Olivier Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens, and was first performed at the Young Vic, London on 29 June 2012

audio An Enemy of the People

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

When a small town relies on tourists flocking to its baths, will a report of dangerously polluted waters be enough to shut them down? Henrik Ibsen weighs the cost of public health versus a town’s livelihood in An Enemy of the People.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast recording, featuring: Richard Kind, Gregory Harrison, Rosalind Ayres, Emily Swallow, Josh Stamberg, Tom Virtue, Alan Shearman, Alan Mandell, and Jon Matthews. Additional voices by Sam Boeck, William Hickman, Adam Mondschein, Julia Coulter, and Jeff Gardner. Directed by Martin Jarvis.

Includes an interview with Joel K. Bourne, Jr., former senior environment editor for National Geographic, on man-made environmental disasters, climate change, and the state of the world's water supply.

An Enemy of the People is part of L.A. Theatre Works’ Relativity Series featuring science-themed plays. Major funding for the Relativity Series is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to enhance public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

Featuring: Rosalind Ayres, Gregory Harrison, Richard Kind, Alan Mandell, Jon Matthews, Alan Shearman, Josh Stamberg, Emily Swallow, Tom Virtue. Additional various voices by Sam Boeck, Julia Coulter, Jeff Gardner, William Hickman, Adam Mondschein

An Enemy of the People (trans. Hampton)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.

Dr Stockmann attempts to expose a water pollution scandal in his home town which is about to establish itself as a spa. When his brother conspires with local politicians and the newspaper to suppress the story, Stockmann appeals to a public meeting - only to be shouted down and reviled as 'an enemy of the people'. Ibsen's explosive play reveals his distrust of politicians and the blindly held beliefs of the masses.

Christopher Hampton's version of Ibsen's classic was first staged at the National Theatre, London, in 1997.

An Enemy of the People (trans. Lenkiewicz)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Power. Money. Morality. In a tight knit community a shocking discovery comes to light and threatens the lifeblood of the town. Truth and honour are pitched against wild ambition and corruption in Ibsen's emotional maelstrom.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz's version of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People premiered at the Arcola Theatre, London in April 2008.

An Enemy of the People (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A bracing and eloquent attack against small-mindedness and reactionism, Ibsen called An Enemy of the People a comedy ‘based on a serious idea’.

The play is set in a coastal town in Norway. Dr Stockmann has discovered that the water supply to the new Baths, upon which the whole town’s financial hopes are resting, is poisonously contaminated. Expecting a public ovation for his services to public health, he is somewhat surprised when the townspeople attempt to hush up his discovery out of concern for their investment. The town’s reaction to his discovery becomes the cornerstone of a polemical epiphany: that the public majority are uninformed and self-serving, and an intellectual minority are best fitted to be in control. Dr Stockmann is drawn with depth and clarity, moving from boyish enthusiasm in the private scenes with his family to the thundering, polemical oration of the fourth act.

This version of An Enemy of the People was first performed in 1962 at the Playhouse, Nottingham.

(the fall of) The Master Builder  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Halvard Solness has arrived at the pinnacle of his career. He has just been awarded the prestigious Master Builder award, his beautiful wife still loves him, his beautiful secretary still flirts with him and Prince Charles is coming to open his new building tomorrow. Then a knock at the door propels Solness’ past into everyone’s future. The only way is down.

Zinnie Harris’s contemporary take on Henrik Ibsen’s classic, The Master Builder, premiered at West Yorkshire Playhouse in September 2017.

Ghosts (adapt. Bullmore)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Ghosts is Ibsen's formidably realistic play about the effects of previous generations on the young, a stinging satire on contemporary Norwegian society and morality, and a haunting tragedy that, more than a century since it premiered, still retains its power to shock.

Osvald Alving has returned from Paris to his mother's home, carrying with him a dreadful secret. His mother's delight at having him home soon turns to horror and grief. The corruption that she had hoped to spare him from when sending him away from the influence of his depraved father has in fact infected his whole body in the form of syphillis.

In Mrs Alving and her son's distrust of conventional religion and mores and Oswald's anguish with life, Ibsen created a thoroughly modern and provocative work. It created widespread outrage and shock when first produced in 1881.

This translation was first presented by the Gate Theatre, London, in a new version by Amelia Bullmore, directed by Anna Mackmin, in January and February 2007.

Ghosts (trans. Lenkiewicz)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Norway, 1881. Mrs. Alving is ecstatic when her son Osvald visits after many years abroad. He has returned to celebrate the heroic memory of his dead father. But within hours of Osvald's homecoming his mother is forced to unearth the past and reveal its terrifying ghosts.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz's version of Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts, or Those Who Return, premiered at the Arcola Theatre, London, in a co-production with ATC in July 2009.

Ghosts (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Mrs Alving, the widow of the King’s Chamberlain, is opening an orphanage on her estate, dedicated to the memory of her late husband. Her son, Oswald, has returned for the ceremony, intent on staying the winter. Regina, Mrs. Alving’s maid, primps coquettishly before her returned young master, while the carpenter Engstrand, Regina’s father, puts the finishing touches to the building.

But when old family friend Pastor Manders arrives to deliver prayers at the opening ceremony, a torrent of secrets is unleashed that leaves the household devastated and the memory of the late Chamberlain in tatters.

The ‘ghosts’ of the title haunt the play, be they the remembrance of filial and wifely duty, the scourge of inherited illness or the dissolution of received morality and the ethics of the status quo.

Ghosts met with critical and moral opprobrium when first published in Norway in 1881, and failed to gain a performance until a regional tour of Sweden in the autumn of 1883. Since then its reputation has been galvanised. It is now seen as one of the greatest works in Ibsen’s oeuvre, and indeed the whole of modern drama.

This translation by Michael Meyer was first performed in 1968 in a production for the BBC.

Hedda

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Lucy Kirkwood's version of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler relocates his nineteenth-century heroine to 21st-century Notting Hill. It was first performed at the Gate Theatre, London, on 21 August 2008.

Hedda, still mourning the father she adored, returns from honeymoon with a husband she doesn’t love, to a flat they can’t afford and a pregnancy she doesn’t want. Trapped by her past and terrified by her future, bored by her life but too cowardly to walk away from it, she finds herself caught between three men. Ultimately, something has to give.

The Gate Theatre premiere was directed by Carrie Cracknell and designed by Holly Waddington, with a cast including Cara Horgan as Hedda and Tom Mison as her husband, George.

video Hedda Gabler (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Ibsen's classic story of a woman who sets out to destroy her husband and his smug, middle-class attitudes, but instead finds herself having to make a grave decision. This television production is related to the 1991 Abbey Theatre, Dublin production which transferred to the West End. Fiona Shaw had played the lead role in that production which was also directed by Deborah Warner.

Credits:

A BBC production in association with WGBH Boston. Director: Deborah Warner; Writer: Henrik Ibsen; Producer: Simon Curtis. Starring: Fiona Shaw (Mind Games), Brid Brennan, Donal McCann (The Serpent's Kiss), Stephen Rea (The Crying Game), Nicholas Woodeson (The Avengers).

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

Hedda Gabler (trans. Friel)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Hedda Gabler returns, dissatisfied, from a long honeymoon. Bored by her aspiring academic husband, she foresees a life of tedious convention. And so, aided and abetted by her predatory confidante, Judge Brack, she begins to manipulate the fates of those around her to devastating effect.

Brian Friel's version of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler premiered at the Gate Theatre, Dublin, in September 2008, to celebrate the theatre's birthday, eighty years after the Gate's inaugural production of Ibsen's Peer Gynt.

Hedda Gabler (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Hedda Gabler is a hard and brilliant tragedy on the purposelessness of life, and a comment on the difficulty of finding personal fulfilment in the stifling world of late nineteenth century bourgeois society, particularly for women.

The eponymous Hedda is an electrically complex woman bored to death by her suburban life. Recently married to George Tesman, an academic happily absorbed in his obscure research, she returns from their honeymoon to a handsomely furnished house and a meaningless existence. In the drawing room, with an insidious judge, a wayward visionary writer and his loyal wife, she impulsively creates a dark, mercurial, anxious drama.

Ibsen wrote Hedda Gabler in Munich in 1890 shortly before his return to Norway. The play initially met with universal condemnation and misunderstanding. This translation was first performed in 1960 at the 4th Street Theatre, New York.

John Gabriel Borkman (trans. Eldridge)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A scorching indictment of nineteenth century capitalism, Ibsen’s penultimate play paints a devastating picture of selfish ambition.

John Gabriel Borkman paces alone in an upstairs room. Downstairs, his wife Gunhild waits for their son to vindicate the family name. They have lived on separate floors for eight years, following Borkman’s imprisonment for fraud on an enormous scale. Gunhild’s twin sister Ella, who was also in love with Borkman, arrives – she is dying, and comes to lay her claim to Erhart, the nephew whom she brought up during Borkman’s incarceration.

The atmosphere is impossibly suffocating, ready to crack, and the contest over the affections of the reluctant Erhart brings the submerged conflict screaming on to the stage. John Gabriel Borkman is a work of cold poignancy etched with comedy, a portrait of men and women who have nothing left to lose.

This version, translated by David Eldridge, premiered in 2007 at the Donmar Warehouse, London.

John Gabriel Borkman (trans. McGuinness)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

John Gabriel Borkman, wealthy, powerful, revered, sacrificed love for success and was handsomely rewarded. Now, disgraced and destitute after financial scandal and a jail sentence, he paces out each day alone, planning his comeback. Downstairs, his wife, Gunhild, lives a parallel existence, plotting for their son to restore the family's reputation. But with the arrival of Gunhild's twin sister Ella, the woman whose love Borkman gave away, the claustrophobic stasis is shattered once and for all.

Frank McGuinness's new version of Henrik Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman premiered at the Abbey Theatre in September 2010 as part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival.

John Gabriel Borkman (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A scorching indictment of nineteenth century capitalism, Ibsen’s penultimate play paints a devastating picture of selfish ambition.

John Gabriel Borkman paces alone in an upstairs room. Downstairs, his wife Gunhild waits for their son to vindicate the family name. They have lived on separate floors for eight years, following Borkman’s imprisonment for fraud on an enormous scale. Gunhild’s twin sister Ella, who was also in love with Borkman, arrives – she is dying, and comes to lay her claim to Erhart, her nephew whom she brought up during Borkman’s incarceration. The atmosphere is impossibly suffocating, ready to crack, and the contest over the affections of the reluctant Erhart brings the submerged conflict screaming on to the stage. John Gabriel Borkman is a work of cold poignancy etched with comedy, a portrait of men and women who have nothing left.

This translation by Michael Meyer was first performed in 1958 in a production for Associated Television.

The Lady from the Sea (trans. Eldridge)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Ibsen's lyrical and still startlingly modern masterpiece vibrantly explores the constrained social position of women. When the lighthouse keeper's daughter Ellida meets the widower Dr Wangel, she tries to put her long-lost first love far behind her and begin a new life as a wife and stepmother. But the tide is turning, an English ship is coming down the fjord, and the undercurrents threaten to drag a whole family beneath the surface in this passionate and sweeping drama. Ellida must choose between the solid and reliable values of the land and the fluid, mysterious and frightening attraction of the sea.

David Eldridge's translation is subtle, faithful and sensitive to Ibsen's language, and makes this classic play accessible to the English reader without compromising any of the original's intensely poetic and atmospheric tone. This version of The Lady from the Sea was first performed in 2010 at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

The Lady from the Sea (trans. McGuinness)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Trapped in a loveless marriage, Ellida is consumed by her longing for the sea, by the promise of the unknown. The startling arrival of a stranger stirs her desires and lures her back to the water's edge. Now Ellida must confront both the past and a desire for freedom that could destroy her.

Frank McGuinness's version of Henrik Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea premiered at the Arcola Theatre, London, in April 2008.

The Lady from the Sea (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Ibsen's lyrical and still startlingly modern masterpiece vibrantly explores the constrained social position of women. When the lighthouse keeper's daughter Ellida meets the widower Dr Wangel, she tries to put her long-lost first love far behind her and begin a new life as a wife and stepmother. But the tide is turning, an English ship is coming down the fjord, and the undercurrents threaten to drag a whole family beneath the surface in this passionate and sweeping drama. Ellida must choose between the solid and reliable values of the land and the fluid, mysterious and frightening attraction of the sea.

This text is translated by Michael Meyer and was first performed on BBC Television in 1958, and first staged in 1979 at the Round House, London.

Little Eyolf

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Guilt and grief hold equal sway over the characters in Ibsen’s Little Eyolf, in which a couple must come to terms with the death of a child. Alfred, the child's father, is wracked with guilt for his failure to protect his son. Rita, his wife, struggles desperately to regain her husband’s attention as their marriage crumbles around them. Both are haunted by past resentments even as they struggle with present tragedy.

Little Eyolf premiered at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin in 1895. It was one of Ibsen’s last plays before his death in 1906.

The Master Builder (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Elusive and hypnotic, Ibsen’s semi-autobiographical The Master Builder shows the relationship between an ageing genius and a singular young woman.

Halvard Solness is the eponymous master builder, now approaching old age but determined to keep his young apprentice Ragnar from overtaking him. He maintains a delicate flirtation with Ragnar’s fiancée, to the quiet dismay of his wife grieving Aline.

Then an extraordinary vibrant woman, Hilde, arrives at his house in walking clothes and demands the kingdom that he promised her. Ten years ago, Solness built a church spire in the town where she was growing up, kissed a little girl and told her that he would make her a princess. Now she has come to claim the memory she has of him, standing at the very top of the spire and waving his hat.

Ibsen’s crisp and forceful drama, written in 1892, is full of exhilaration and terror. This translation by Michael Meyer was first presented in 1988 on BBC Television

Mrs Affleck

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

I know. No country matters. Not in the kitchen.

Not on a Sunday. Not in England.

After six lonely weeks with nobody but her disabled boy for company, Rita Affleck, wealthy, beautiful and consumed by jealous love, welcomes home her husband Alfred. But, far from the passionate reunion she so craves, there is only torment as Alfred's possessive half-sister arrives, and he announces his great revelation.

I want things how they were ... My perfect poet ...

1945, one afternoon in London - on the floor,

every last undiluted drop of you.

Taking Ibsen's Little Eyolf as the inspiration for a passionate and tragic tale of obsessive love, set in 1950s England, Samuel Adamson's Mrs Affleck opened at the National Theatre, London, in January 2009.

Peer Gynt

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Per Gynt, the model for Ibsen’s great dramatic poem, was a folk hero from Norwegian fairy tales. Believing the story to be based on fact, Ibsen composed his work in the 1870s, eschewing dramatic convention and sending his protagonist on a fantastical, at times cinematic, journey across the Scandinavian countryside, vigorously traversing the borders of imagination and traditional stagecraft to produce one of his greatest works.

In his introduction to the play, translator and editor Michael Meyer says: ‘Peer Gynt is an emperor manqué, searching to discover what he is Emperor of – to find at the end that the one thing of which he was meant to be, and was not, Emperor, was himself. The turning-point in his quest for salvation is that moment of despair when he sees the star fall, because the moment of despair is the moment of hope.’

Written to be read, Peer Gynt was not staged until 1876, nine years after it was first published in Scandinavia (and only then after many cuts and rewrites). It was first performed in Britain in 1908. This translation by Michael Meyer was commissioned by the Old Vic Theatre Trust, and first performed on 26 September 1962.

The Pillars of Society (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Pillars of Society is an absorbing example of Ibsen in his less familiar mood of humane comedy. Though the issues it confronts are no longer urgent, it remains a tightly plotted and beautifully characterised examination of selfish deception and defiance of convention.

The play is set in Karsten Bernick’s house in a Norwegian seaport, where he lives with his wife Betty, their son Olaf, and their ward Dina Dorf. Bernick is a successful shipowner, and a bastion of the prosperity and moral fortitude so much valued in the small town. But a threat to the insular conservatism arrives in the form of an American ship, carrying a circus and—even more appalling—Betty’s estranged brother and half-sister, who both left the town for America after a scandal involving Dina’s mother. With this thrilling catalyst, Ibsen exposes a marriage founded on a lie, an arrogant man destroying the happiness of those around him, and the stultifying effect of social conventions.

Published in 1877, The Pillars of Society has been described as the first play to combine the three elements of colloquial dialogue, objectivity, and tightness of plot which are the requirements and characteristics of modern prose drama. This translation is by Michael Meyer.

Pillars of the Community (trans. Adamson)

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Calamity strikes when Bernick's business prowess and pristine reputation are threatened by the revelation of a long-buried secret. Desperate to dodge exposure in the kowtowing local community, Bernick devises a pitiless plan which, by a shocking twist of fate, risks the one life he holds dear.

This rarely performed thriller is set amid a society struggling against the rush of capitalism, the lure of America and the passionate beginnings of the fight for female emancipation.

Samuel Adamson version of Pillars of the Community premiered at the National Theatre, London, in October 2005.

The Pretenders

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Set in Norway in the first half of the thirteenth century, The Pretenders is based on the true story of King Haakon of Norway, who by the end of his reign had become the longest-serving king of Norway to date.

Ibsen’s play tells the story of a civil war fought between King Haakon and his uncle Skule. Skule, having been regent until Haakon came of age, relinquishes the rule of Norway to his nephew with great difficulty. Goaded by the Mephistophelean Bishop Nicholas, Skule embarks on a deadly campaign to install himself as the king of Norway, endangering his family and the kingdom in a stuttering, uncertain grasp for power.

In his introduction to the play, Michael Meyer writes: ‘it is not merely as apprentice work that The Pretenders demands attention. It stands solidly in its own right as a historical drama of epic sweep and intense poetic imagination, working remorselessly towards the superb climax in the abbey . . . It should be regarded, not as an isolated range-finder, but as the first of the great epic quartet containing Brand, Peer Gynt and Emperor and Galilean.’

This translation by Michael Meyer was commissioned by the Old Vic Trust and was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Bristol, on 12 February 1963.

Rosmersholm

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Deep currents of thought about social and political change run through Rosmersholm, the last of Ibsen’s political plays. Johannes Rosmer, a leading member of his community, chooses to support the new reformist government despite his own upper class origins. Unfortunately, his complicated relationship with Rebecca West, a friend of his dead wife who now lives in his house, leaves him open to attacks from those angry at what they see as his political and moral betrayal.

Inspired by an upheaval in Norwegian politics, as well as the life of one of Ibsen’s friends, Rosmersholm was first performed at the National Theatre in Bergen, Norway, in 1887. Despite its relative obscurity, it is considered by some Ibsen scholars to be one of his masterpieces.

When We Dead Awaken

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

When We Dead Awaken is Ibsen’s last and most experimental play, both powerfully symbolic and a merciless self-portrait, in part devastatingly symbolic, and eerily profound.

The world-famous aging sculptor Professor Rubek and his younger wife Maja are holidaying at a coastal spa hotel. After having finished his masterpiece, ‘The Day of Resurrection’, Rubek is making his living sculpting busts for wealthy patrons. Maja is impatient with their muffled life, reminding him of the promise he made, when they were married, to take her to the top of a mountain.

Then the white-clad Irene appears, shadowed by a nun in black. She was Rubek’s model for his great sculpture, but since they parted both of them have slipped into an ossified half-existence, Irene claiming she is more dead than alive. When We Dead Awaken is the story of their reunion, of Maja’s bid for freedom and of their climb up the mountain into the sun.

The play was written in 1899; this translation by Michael Meyer was first performed in 1961 at the Gate Theatre, Dublin.

The Wild Duck (trans. Eldridge)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Enthralling and unsettling, The Wild Duck is a play of keen psychology and absolute truth.

Gregers Werle, the son of a wealthy businessman, is an uncompromising idealist, and invites himself into the house of Hjalmar Ekdal, his childhood friend. His intention is to free the Ekdal family from the mesh of lies on which their contented lives are based: Gregers can see delusion, fantasy, and deep-seated deception surrounding Hjalmar, his father, his wife Gina, and his daughter Hedvig. But Gregers drowns the family even as he is trying to raise them up, his well-meaning investigations shredding the lies they have told themselves in order to live. The Wild Duck’s title is taken from the wounded bird which is nursed and kept in the attic by Hedvig, an acute symbol of resistance to reality which is the crux of this rich and piercing play.

The Wild Duck was published in 1884 and premiered in 1885 at Bergen in Norway. This version by David Eldridge opened in 2005 at the Donmar Warehouse, London.

The Wild Duck (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Enthralling and unsettling, The Wild Duck is a play of profound, keen psychology and absolute truth.

Gregers Werle, the son of a wealthy businessman, is an uncompromising idealist, and invites himself into the house of Hjalmar Ekdal, his childhood friend. His intention is to free the Ekdal family from the mesh of lies on which their contented lives are based; Gregers can see delusion, fantasy, and deep-seated deception surrounding Hjalmar, his father, his wife Gina, and his daughter Hedvig.

But Gregers drowns the family even as he is trying to raise them up, his well-meaning investigations shredding the lies they have told themselves in order to live. The Wild Duck’s title is taken from the wounded bird which is nursed and kept in the attic by Hedvig, an acute and crucial symbol of resistance to reality at the centre of this rich and piercing play.

The Wild Duck was published in 1884 and premiered in 1885 at Bergen in Norway. This version, translated by Michael Meyer, was first performed in 1963 at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham.

At the dawn of the twentieth century Norway had two national theatres: Den Nationale Scene in Bergen (founded 1876) and the Nationaltheater in Christiania (later Oslo), which opened in 1899. Construction of the monumental Nationaltheater, on a prime plot between the university and the parliament, was funded by the emerging middle class of bankers, merchants and lawyers. Both of these theatres are still in operation. There were also theatres in such coastal cities as Kristiansand, Arendal, Stavanger and Trondheim; but they were used mainly by amateur groups or sporadically by touring companies.

In 1913 Arne and Hulda Garborg founded Det Norske Teatret in Oslo. It was dedicated to furthering the cause of the minority, rural language, Nynorsk, and to presenting themes and characters thought to be specifically 'Norwegian'. Despite its nationalist and rural roots, it quickly became Norway's most international theatre, often presenting challenging new plays from abroad, occasionally guest-directed by some of Europe's finest directors.

The history of Norwegian theatre since the Second World War has been marked by a high degree of decentralization and increasing subsidies. As part of the 'rebuilding' of the country in the postwar era, the ruling Labour party formulated an aggressive programme to strengthen the arts. Theatre companies in Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger were given regular subsidies, thus ensuring their survival. A national touring company, Riksteatret, was founded in 1948, and a school for actors was opened in 1953. (Since 1980 the school has also had a programme for directors.)

At the end of the century there were seven major theatre companies in Norway's five largest cities, and professional or semi-professional companies in eight smaller towns. Of particular note is the Sami (Lapp) theatre in Kautokeino, Beaivvas. All these companies are heavily subsidized, with 60–90 per cent of revenue coming from local and national funding. There is far less corporate sponsorship than in English-speaking countries, and private donations are very rare. Each year these theatres sell about 1.3 million tickets in a country of 4.2 million people.

All the government-funded theatres have permanent companies (except for three of the smaller regionals). The actors' union has achieved a measure of influence in questions of repertoire and casting. The ensemble system is often accused of fostering stagnation, but perhaps because it works against typecasting, the level of artistic achievement in acting is consistently high. Since the 1970s the notion of a 'dialect-free' stage speech has been eroded and young actors typically strive to retain some of their local dialect.

Norwegian theatre has become highly international. Seeing a new play most often means seeing a recent foreign play in translation, and theatres are quick to pick up on new trends and authors abroad, particularly in the English-speaking world. Foreign directors working in Norway have also provided new impulses; they include Silviu Purcărete (Romania), Gábor Zsámbéki (Hungary), Krystyna Skuszanka (Poland), Sam Besekow (Denmark), John Barton (England), Jan Hâkanson (Sweden) and Jacques Lasalle (France). The importance of new Norwegian plays has declined steadily since Ibsen's day, and by the end of the century there seemed to be less good, new writing being produced in Norway than in other countries with comparable theatre activity. Three significant writers earlier in the century were Nordahl Grieg, Oskar Braaten and Helge Krog. Their works are occasionally revived. Of contemporary playwrights, Klaus Hagerup, Terje Nordby, Julian Garner, Cecilie Løveid and others have written consistently interesting plays. With the emergence of Jon Fosse (b. 1959) as a playwright in 1994 (by which time he had many successful novels and volumes of poetry behind him), Norwegian theatre seems to have found a new voice of international size. His plays have been produced far afield. Writing in Nynorsk, Fosse often presents primal scenes of family life. In Sonen (The Son, 1997), a prodigal son returns from the city to his ancestral farm. The only other characters are his father and mother, and the play concerns the gap that has grown between them. Fosse's plays are written in a tightly controlled, minimalistic and mesmerizing style, filled with ellipses and repetitions of stock phrases signifying a failure to communicate. Many critics have proclaimed his body of plays the finest since Ibsen.

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