Four degrees Celsius, a thin rain and low clouds: instead of letting ourselves overwhelmed by Scandinavian autumnal melancholy, biennial Swedstage offers us an enthralling program of stage propositions intended for international theatre programmers.

Strictly speaking, Swedstage is not a festival, but a local showcase, a miscellany of recent productions, with a strong focus on young public shows. This year, around sixty guests coming from 33 countries were able to attend a dozen plays, as well as ten or so others presented during a short pitch session by Swedish companies. Among them, the adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, by Eva Dahlmann, which is based on quadri-frontal set and a partial immersion of the actors among the audience, reinforcing the intimacy of the project. Johan and Marianne are performed by three couples of various ages and genders (including a lesbian couple). Their interactions go on until they begin to melt into each other, always preserving the antiromantic sharpness and humorousness of the Swedish director. The icing on the cake is the presence of Dag Malmberg, one of the magnetic actors from the dazzling crime fiction TV series Bron.

The Cirkus Cirkör company has been part of the unmissable circus repertoire of Sweden for almost twenty years. With their new production Limits, they deal with the notion of frontiers, whether real or imaginary. A particularly political topic in our times of intensive and challenging migrations in Europe. The performance is highly physical and truly bewitching, with a great sense of poetry and rhythm. However, it does suffer at times from the superimposition of informational messages about the refugees that are a little too straightforward and first degree. “Limits” is touring all over Europe, including Marseille and Berlin in February 2017 and Bærum (Norway) in March.

In one of the upstairs rehearsals rooms of the Dramaten, the Swedish national theatre, Marcus Lindeen presents his latest work called Wild Minds, based on the testimonies he gathered from daydreamers – or “extreme fantasizers” -,  originally commissioned by the Moderna Museet. The overriding interest of this very original project is the set design itself: a small number of spectators are seated in a circle like in group therapy, along with the four actors. The latter use the “headphone verbatim” technique: they don’t know the lines before they hear them through a recording cast in their earpiece. Then they have to reformulate them, a method that allows, in a very convincing way, to simulate the authenticity of the real interviews upon which the text is based, triggering thoughts on the nature of fictional creation.

Swedstage is also the opportunity to discover the Riksteatern, Swedish national touring theatre, a quite unique structure that tries to overcome the difficulties for a lot of Swedish creations to tour around the country, especially because of its geographical singularities. The venue is located in the South-East of the capital, and doesn’t normally host representations: the huge warehouse is divided into six different rehearsal stages as well as set design workshops, ready to be loading trucks that will roam across the country for maybe 50 or 60 dates per show… This is where we saw People Respect Now by Paula Stenström Öhman, a documentary project on violence at school. Also, Trans[e]ició from the collective SOMOS, four exceptional dancers vibrating on individual choreographies (and also group sequences, powerful but less convincing) reinforced by hip-hop and urban grooves mixing trance and Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Trans[e]ición is SOMOS Dance Company’s third production and produced in Cuba 2015, premiered in Havana for full houses at La lineas- Theatre Raquel Revuelta and Orden tercera. Photo: Stig-Magnus Thorsén

Last but not least, Falling Out of Time, from Swedish theatre veteran Suzanne Osten, talks about the difficult topic of the loss of a child. On a stage covered with thick black sand, here are nine parents, lost souls, meandering in a purgatory in which “death is not dead.” The director, also known for her film-making work (including The Guardian Angel in 1990) adapts Israeli writer David Grossman’s novel, published in 2014. The characters seem to be, alternately, members of a speech group, singers of an in-between-worlds cabaret; men and women jostle each other, support each other, question themselves in order to exorcise the pain. A strange Coryphaeus and his acolyte, a scribe, punctuate the dialogues like the necessary witnesses of this suffering which, in order to be overcome, must be put into words. And then the words will become a series of tales for which the audience is the recipient. Anders Niska’s music, sorrowful dissonances performed live on an old shabby piano, sets the mood. After a long (and rather repetitive) introduction, the second part of the play displays a remarkable intensity in its declension of the syntax of mourning by the bodies and the words: gesticulations, wailings, question thrown in the void, and above all fragile attempts to trace the roadmap of what lies beyond death. How are the “leftovers” able to live on after this breaking point? In an extremely stirring closing scene, the back door of the stage opens wide, towards the outside air and light: a large carpet is unfolded and we are invited (no clapping, total silence) to get out of the theatre, in a quiet finale that lends itself to the birth of a new hope. The Fall stops and we are back in Time.

Falling Out of Time is director Suzanne Osten’s interpretation of the Israeli writer David Grossman’s acclaimed novel of the same title, published in 2014, which draws on the author’s grief after the combat death of his 21-year-old son. Photo: Sara P Borgström

Swedstage, October 23-26 2016, Stockholm

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This post was written by Mathias Daval.

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