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.

Creditors (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Creditors describes the marriage of Tekla, a successful author, and her second husband Adolf. Adolf has become depressed about the state of his marriage and seeks the advice of his new friend Gustav, who recommends a novel scheme to solve Adolf's woes. However, this Gustav is not the neutral counsellor Adolf seems to think he is; and his vested interest in Adolf and Tekla's marriage is the source of the great power of this play.

In his introduction, translator Michael Meyer writes: 'Creditors has gradually come to be regarded, both in Scnainavia and elsewhere, as one of Strindberg's most powerful plays . . . Tekla is one of Strindberg's subtlest creations: approaching middle-age and fearful of it, her vulgarity concealed by a veneer of gentility'.

Originally refused by Strindberg's Swedish publishers on the grounds that it was too intimate a portrait of Strindberg's own marriage, Creditors was first published in Danish in 1889 before being printed in Swedish the following year.

The Dance of Death (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.

The Dance of Death (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Hailed by Strindberg himself as his ‘best play’, The Dance of Death seems paradoxically so – it is a dark and pessimistic depiction of a marriage in strife. The relationship between the main characters, Alice and Edgar, parallels that of Strindberg’s sister, Anna, to her husband, Hugo, with the author’s insertion of himself as ‘Kurt’, a man who covets Edgar’s wife.

The Dance of Death is filled with vituperative argumentation and increasing violence between the couple, only made more complicated by the near-affair that Kurt has with Alice (and the questionable morality of Kurt’s biographical connection with the author).

Strindberg wrote the play in two parts: the first in October of 1900 and the second in December. They were also initially performed separately, though nearly five years after publication in Germany, and nine years afterward in Sweden. Both parts proved an enormous success in Sweden and abroad, and together, has remained one of Strindberg’s most performed plays ever since.

A Dream Play (trans. Meyer)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A Dream Play, like many of Strindberg’s plays, was based on his own psychological and marital experiences. The author watched Norwegian actress Harriet Bosse in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1900; shortly thereafter, he made her his wife and the Shakespeare dream play an inspiration, of sorts, for his own.

The play itself is presented in a style quite different from Strindberg’s usual aesthetic of realism. The main character in the play is Agnes, a daughter of the Vedic god Indra, who descends to Earth to understand the problems of human beings. As Agnes encounters dozens of human characters who are suffering from cruelty, poverty, and the mundaneness of family life, she comes to the realisation that humanity is bleak and pitiful. Agnes’ final return to Heaven corresponds with an awakening from her dream-like state, and she no longer experiences the ‘agony of existence’ it is to be human.

A Dream Play, which Strindberg wrote in the midst of a psychological episode, was rendered unstageable for years after its initial publication in 1901. Though it debuted in Sweden in 1907, the production was unable to achieve many of the scenic effects implicit in the play text. It has been re-staged on many other occasions, both in Sweden and elsewhere, to varying degrees of success.

The Father (Strindberg)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Strindberg’s intense and unyielding play displays his suspicion of women at its most implacable, in a portrait of fierce marital discord and sexual conflict.

The Captain and his wife Laura are locked in a disagreement about how their daughter Bertha is to be brought up. Legally, the Captain has the right to control the life of his wife and child, but he feels trapped in a household of demanding, combative women – his wife, his childhood nurse and his mother-in-law. Laura has been impeding his scientific research by intercepting his post, and now begins to poison his authority, warning the new doctor to look out for signs of insanity, and deftly torturing him with the suggestion that Bertha is not his own child. Their marriage is a livid, bitter struggle for power, as Strindberg explores the devastating force of the battle of the sexes.

The Father was written and first produced in 1887; this translation by Michael Meyer was first performed in 1964 at the Piccadilly Theatre, London.

The Ghost Sonata

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Ghost Sonata is a phantasmagoric dream play steeped in cynicism and disgust, peeling open a world drained of life and rotted by moral corruption and despair.

In the square outside a fashionable house, an exhausted student meets a milkmaid, and an old man in a wheelchair. On the old man’s instructions, he goes to the opera and gets himself invited into the fashionable house, where he has always dreamed of going. There he finds a place where an ancient mummy worships her own cold marble statue and speaks like a parrot, the house’s inhabitants gather for a ritual silent dinner known as the Ghost Supper, and the cook sucks the blood out of the meat before serving it.

The transfixing, unhinged characters of the The Ghost Sonata together form a ghastly meditation on disillusionment and decay. Strindberg describes it as an “attempt to imitate the inconsequent yet transparently logical shape of a dream.” It is the third of Strindberg’s ‘chamber plays’ composed for his Intimate Theatre. It was written in 1907 and acted the next year, where it was violently condemned.

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.

Master Olof

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Olof Persson was a Swedish clergyman whose contribution to the Protestant Reformation in Sweden forms the subject of this, August Strindberg's first major play. In Master Olof - which Strindberg would revise many times over the years - we witness Persson's series of rebellions, first against the established Church, then against the king, Gustav, with whom he had previously sided, and finally, against the expectations of heroic martyrdom, a fate he eschews in favour of living on to spread the word of Lutheranism.

In his introduction, translator Michael Meyer writes: 'Master Olof is arguably as astounding a play as was ever written by a dramatist of 23 . . . vividly characterized, sharply written and told in a series of swift and powerful scenes rising to a superb climax'.

The translation presented here was commissioned by the BBC and was first broadcast on Radio 3 on 8 January 1986.

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).