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Little Eyolf review – exhilarating Ibsen from Norway’s National Theatre

“It is the fashion these days to strip Ibsen to the bone. This exhilarating production from Norway’s National Theatre – played in Norwegian with surtitles – is very much in the modern mode. It runs, like Richard Eyre’s 2015 Almeida version, for a brisk 85 minutes, and is played in modern dress with mostly bare feet and minimal furniture. It leaves you, as all good Ibsen should, quietly shattered.

Guilt is the prevailing theme as Rita and Alfred Allmers try to repair a marriage already haunted by the accident that happened to their boy, Eyolf, when they were preoccupied in making love. What is especially striking about Sofia Jupither’s production is its realisation of Ibsen’s sexual candour. Pia Tjelta’s Rita can hardly keep her hands off Kåre Conradi’s withdrawn Alfred as he returns from a six-week walking tour in the mountains and unbuttons his shirt with frenzy. Alfred’s passion for his half-sister, Asta, is more decorously expressed but no less intense. The most shocking revelation comes when we learn that Alfred, who used to call Asta “Little Eyolf”, cried out that name at a moment of orgasm with his wife. Written in 1894, the play emerges as both breathtakingly honest and the ancestor of soul-baring modern dramas by Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee.

Jupither’s production also brings out Ibsen’s grim humour. When Tjelta’s superb Rita, a Lady Macbeth of the fjords, announces that she intends to devote herself to looking after neglected children, one’s initial response is that the police should be alerted. Conradi captures perfectly Alfred’s self-regarding intellectualism, and there is fine support from Ine Jansen as an anguished Asta and from Andrine Sæther, who turns the symbolic figure of the Rat-Wife, sensing something troublesome gnawing away in the house, into a hippy Pied Piper. This is Ibsen with the gloves off, and the only sadness is that the production was given a bare three-night run. Someone should invite this company back to give us an extended Ibsen season.”

**** Michael Billington, The Guardian (20 April 2018)

The Norwegian Ibsen Company has started a co-operation with The Print Room theatre Coronet in Notting Hill, London. The first production will be a visit from The National Theatre of Norway. This guest performance is funded by the InterNational Foundation.

This production of Little Eyolf has been on the repertoire of The National Theatre of Norway for three years to amazing reviews. The Norwegian Ibsen Company’s artistic director Kåre Conradi is a lifetime employee at The National Theatre of Norway and plays Alfred Almers opposite Pia Tjelta as Rita Almers. Tjelta is these days shooting the series BECK in Sweden where she stars opposite Kristoffer Hivju (Game of Thrones).

The visit of this powerful production to The Print Room also marks the beginning of a working relationship between The Print Room Coronet and The Norwegian Ibsen Company. Artistic Director Kåre Conradi has said at several occasions that The Coronet has many similarities to The National Theatre of Norway. The much needed yet very cool choice of bringing the Coronet stage up to the level of first balcony is something he would have loved to experience at The National Theatre of Norway if an opportunity was given. It brings an incredible intimacy into the grand atmosphere of a big classic theatre house.

The co-production from Norway also stars Andrine SætherJohn Emil Jørgensrud and Ine Jansen. Directed by the award winning director Sofia Jupither.

Thursday 19 to Saturday 21 April 2018. BOOK NOW! The Thursday performance is already SOLD OUT.

Print Room at the Coronet, 103 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3LB.

Three Peer Gynt’s come together in a rare performance at Gålå, the home of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt in Gudbrandsdalen.

This is a co-production between Peer Gynt – Gålå and The Norwegian Ibsen Company.

This famous outdoor arena visited by 3,000 audience members a day welcomes three of Norway’s most celebrated actors. Dennis Storhøi, Kåre Conradi and Norway’s grand old man, Toralv Maurstad have all played Peer Gynt for many years and in different ways have Peer shaped their lives.

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Pia Tjelta and Kåre Conradi are returning to The National Theatre of Norway in Little Eyolf.

The play opens on the 29th August 2017.

[ see video ]

Artistic Director Kåre Conradi just won The Hedda Award 2016 (Norway’s equivalent to Olivier Award) for best actor in the part of Richard III at The National Theatre of Norway.

Artistic Director Kåre Conradi is to star as Edward IV in Trevor Nunn’s production of The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Theatre Kingston.

Epic, enthralling, extraordinary. The Rose stage will be transformed into a battleground for The Wars of the Roses, a gripping distillation of four of Shakespeare’s history plays, directed by Trevor Nunn, one of the world’s leading Shakespearean directors. Kåre will be joined on stage by Joely Richardson, Rufus Hound, Robert Sheehan, Oliver Cotton, Laurence Spellman and Susan Tracy.

A spectacular theatrical event not seen since it was first produced at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1963 by Peter Hall & John Barton, The Wars of the Roses is a trilogy of plays about one of the most tumultuous and intriguing periods of British history – the 15th century conflict between the House of York and the House of Lancaster for the throne of England.

Through these plays Shakespeare examines the very essence of human conflict. A tale of feuding families, murderous kings and adulterous queens, scheming and betrayal, revolts and battles, The Wars of the Roses chronicles the final struggle for power in medieval England.

Preserving Ibsen’s Legacy

A ten minute read by Camilla Brugrand

British people are from an early age nourished with the immortal words of William Shakespeare. Norwegian forces are now trying to do the same with national hero and playwright Henrik Ibsen by establishing a company to preserve his legacy.

Norwegian actor Kåre Conradi started The Norwegian Ibsen Company three years ago, with the hope of creating a powerhouse of actors that will continue to spread the famous playwright’s heritage both at home and internationally.

“Ibsen was the father of modern drama. He created a new generation of actors who spoke in a more natural manner on stage, and wrote about real social conditions which are still relevant today.”

Conradi has long been an active proponent in spreading Ibsen’s wisdom to other parts of the world. At the end of 2014, he travelled to India to open the first Ibsen Festival in Mumbai together with Bollywood legend, actress Ila Arun.

“It’s a way of finding common ground and come together through culture. Now, Arun and the other people who were involved in making the festival happen want it to become an annual tradition. It was also encouraged by the embassy in Delhi.”

Currently, Conradi is touring Norway as the lead in a Norwegian adaptation of the British drama Dumb Show, to great reviews. Despite being busy, he still finds time to sit down for an interview to discuss his plans for the Ibsen Company.

“What I want is a company that works continuously with Ibsen –a leading company who aims to be innovative and creative.”

Conradi refers to the UK’s Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and the work The Shakespeare Globe Theatre does in preserving the work of their national playwright.

“It has been my goal for a very long time to establish The Norwegian Ibsen Company. There is still a long way to go, but it is very inspiring and exciting to talk to actors who want to participate in the project. However, everything comes down to funding.”

Marit Mohn has been a significant financial supporter of Conradi’s work with the Ibsen Company. Mohn currently lives in Kingston Upon Thames and has been a board member of Kingston’s famous Rose Theatre since 2012.

“I’m very grateful for the support from Marit. She has been very encouraging and wants to see The Norwegian Ibsen Company thrive. I’m moving slowly with the project because I want to treat it with the utmost respect and care. A lot of talented people are interested in being a part of the company, and I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I want this to be a permanent business and not a one-hit wonder. All we need are the financial frames.”

Conradi wants to make the company international, but primarily establish a Norwegian base where anyone who are interested in Ibsen can come and learn more about the playwright and his legacy.

“On a long-term basis I think that we could open an Ibsen house where people can come and learn from actors about Ibsen. It’s also a goal to take Ibsen plays outside the country borders and show the rest of the world what we are good for. We are proud of Ibsen, and it’s something we have a relationship too.”

He believes that people who enjoy the theatre would love to come and see how Nordics do Ibsen and what knowledge they have about the world the talented writer.

“The point is that people in Norway have grown up with Ibsen the same way British people have grown up reading and seeing Shakespeare.”

Classical plays like A Doll’s House, Lady from the Sea and The Wild Duck has been celebrated and on the British island and the Brits doesn’t seem to get tired of the Nordic dramas.

“The content of Ibsen’s plays are something that the English theatre knows how to use very well. They are superb at that type of drama and performance. Managing text that way is something they learned from having Shakespeare as a foundation of reading at school. I don’t know why Ibsen’s plays attract so many Brits, but I reckon it’s primary because it’s real drama, and they may not be as used to him as we are back home.”

Ibsen’s plays attract some of the UK’s most brilliant minds, including Judi Dench and Lesley Manville. In most of Ibsen’s stories you can find active and outspoken female characters – something that appeals to the vast actresses spectre in the UK.

“The greatest stars want to stare in Ibsen plays because it is written in such a good way and has a lot of dramas and intrigue. It’s perhaps some of the best performances actors can aspire to play. In my eyes at least, Ibsen is at the top of the shelf of acting performances. There are very many layers to his dramas.”

Despite the recent love for Ibsen, England wasn’t as welcoming when Ibsen’s work was first introduced in the 1800s. He received a lot of criticism, and many reviewers described his work as typical Nordic: heavy, grey and depressing.

“It’s exactly the way Jon Fosse, a Norwegian author and dramatist, has been received by the UK critics nowadays. They say it’s as grey and sad as it gets.”

Conradi has inhabited many Ibsen characters over the years. Among them is Peer Gynt by Ibsen Theatre under the direction of José Luis Valenzuela, director of the Los Angeles Theatre Centre, Earl Haakonsson in Pretenders at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Stensgaard in The League of Youth at the National Theatre and Falk in Love comedy – a role he received Radioteatrets Blue bird.

“I’m proud to be Norwegian in many ways, but especially because it’s the home country of my favourite playwright. Ibsen has done a lot on an international level when it comes to introducing drama to the world. I’m also proud that I have received the opportunity to act in so many Ibsen plays that I have.”

Already during his study at the Norwegian Theatre College and LAMDA in London, Conradi has a predilection for Ibsen’s work.

“To me, the theatre is a holy place. I like to go into the material as deep as I can and Ibsen gave me the opportunity to do that. He sees people just the way they are, and he has become a somewhat mentor in humans inner life. In a way, he kind of reveals our true intentions and aspirations. I always get the aha-feeling when I’m reading his work – because I find new meanings and deeper context the more layers I get through.”

Ibsen is one of the playwright’s that has managed to stay relevant for over a hundred years. What he writes about during the 1800s could be translated to current situations in today’s society.

“If you can’t do Ibsen on a stage, you know that you only have yourself to blame for it. As an actor, you have to realise that your greatest task is to convey his words as best as you can to the audience. It gives you an enormous reassurance, as an actor to know that the material you are working on is good. Ibsen has his hidden secret and I think it’s exciting to reveal them when reading his texts over and again.”

The Norwegian Ibsen Company has tried its best to stay true to the words written by Ibsen. Only the oldest words have been renewed.

“We haven’t tried to make it modern and hip. The people working together have relied on each other, and we believe that Ibsen’s text shows the way. We have talked about our lives in the process to figure out how to tell the story as humanly as possible. Our goal is for the audience to experience something that occurs then and there.

Five years ago, Conradi started studying the link between Ibsen and Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. The more he read, the more he realised that one of them had a significant impact on the other. However, Munch and Ibsen only met two times in their lifetime.

“Munch’s father used to read Ibsen to him when he was only twelve years old. This created a whole new universe for Munch. At the age of fourteen, Munch drew his first drawing based on an Ibsen play.”

Later, it has been said that between 500 and 600 of Munch’s work as been inspired by Ibsen. Munch recognised himself in much of Ibsen’s work, especially the dark, fighting men who felt shunned by society and felt that they didn’t get acceptance. Therefore, they fought all the time.

“At one of Munch’s art exhibition, Ibsen told him: ‘it’s going to go with you as it did with me. The more friends you get, the more enemies”, Conradi explains before he is rushed back to another rehearsal for his current tour with the Riksteateret (Norway’s National Touring Theatre).

Kåre as Peer Gynt in India

Kåre has just returned from the highly successful first Ibsen Theatre Festival in Mumbai, India.


Photos: Helge Lien

For the last two years, awake or dreaming, I have had only one thing on my mind-Ibsen. Immersed in adapting Peer Gynt in Hindi, my mind has been working on having an Ibsen Theatre Festival in Mumbai. Finally, Peer Gynt is ready as Pir Ghani and the date for the festival draws near. My dream has been realized.

Born under the Zodiac sign, Pisces, (a sign I humbly share with Henrik Ibsen), in a city on the outskirts of the vast, lonely deserts of Rajasthan, perhaps it was destiny that I would be drawn towards water, inspired by Neptune, God of springs, rivers and the seas. And as the Piscean dreamer, I have been initiated from birth into a world of fantasy, making my several worlds between deserts, water and mountains explode into another sphere of fantasy, the theatre.

It was in this world that I came upon the work of Henrik Ibsen. Then in 2010, I was invited to adapt and direct a play by Ibsen for the DADA Festival in New Delhi. Somehow, I was fascinated by the possibilities that The Lady from the Sea offered, especially in the folk tradition. And that was the beginning of my ‘obsession’ with Ibsen. As I worked on the script, placing the story in the arid areas of Rajasthan, it seemed to me as if Ibsen in the 19th century in faraway Norway was addressing issues in Indian society! I could almost feel the relevance of Ibsen in our society even today and I realised that culturally and emotionally, Indians and Norwegians were not too far apart. Ibsen had managed to encapsulate our concerns– women’s issues, relationships, family ties in a changing society—with such skill and understanding, that each one of his readers could empathise and connect with his characters. The adaptation, titled Mareechika (Mirage) was a great success and I rode high on the waves that hit the shores of India and Norway, literally, since subsequently, thanks to the Norwegian Embassy in India, we actually crossed the seas to Norway as invitees to the Ibsen Festival in Oslo in 2012.

My love affair with Ibsen reached a climax when I saw that Ibsen was an icon for people from all walks of life. My horizon expanded and I realized that like Varanasi, Oslo too is a city of temples, its theatres, where people worship their literary gods in awed silence.

Like one obsessed, I saw everything associated with Ibsen and in that chill weather, I embraced him like a shawl, wrapping each memory into my very being. And in the course of my visit, I met three wonderful ‘Ibsen’ people—Kåre Conradi, Ruth Wilhelmine Meyer and Helge Lien. Their performances impressed me so much that I was determined to see these artistes perform before an Indian audience. Thus began the idea of an Ibsen Festival in Mumbai. Ruth is singing on Ibsen’s themes in jazz form while Kare will give an hour-long performance of Peer Gynt which we have seen him present at Oslo. It will be a challenge indeed for our theatre group performing “Pir Ghani” to witness his unforgettable performance.

We are indeed grateful to the Norwegian Embassy for making the Ibsen festival possible.

The first Ibsen Theatre Festival in Mumbai runs from 31 October to 2 November 2014.

Ibsen Company’s Artistic Director Kåre Conradi is appearing in a National Theatret production of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf.

When the dream of the perfect family becomes a nightmare for the children.

We all seem to be concerned with how we relate to our children, but have we forgotten what it really means? Does the facade matter too much? Do we neglect the importance of just being there?

These are the questions director Sofia Jupither poses in Little Eyolf. She has dreamed of staging it for years – and now that this dream has come true, she once again she demonstrates her insight into the world of children.

Eyolf is a child who is not seen. As a baby, he fell from the changing table because his parents, Rita and Alfred, were more concerned with each other than with his safety. In most productions, the emotional warfare between Rita and Alfred is the focus of the play. In Jupither’s version, though, Eyolf is the protagonist. Little Eyolf drowns, and Rita and Alfred – played by Pia Tjelta and Kåre Conradi – do not see what they had until they have lost it.

Of all Ibsen’s plays, Little Eyolf is the one least influenced by the surrounding community. There are no telegrams in locked mailboxes and there is no syphilis; there is only a reference to a steamer. The story is easy to adapt to our own time. The story of the vulnerable child speaks as just as strongly to us today. Ibsen people belong to our time.

The Premiere is Tuesday 9 September and runs until 18 October 2014. Performed in Norwegian, with English subtitles.