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Playwrights Corner


Authors' Notes

Christian Siméon
© Bertrand Couderc
Into the Fjords: Reimagining Theatre for the Young… a return from the Teaterbiennalen in Örebro | Sweden, 23-27 May 2007 | Karin Serres

« How can one understand another country’s theatre? How is it possible to understand all the differences and make oneself faithfully receptive to the texts and performances?

After Suzanne Osten’s Paris seminar last January, and reading piles of Swedish plays for young audiences, I was hungry to know more. And that is what this true face to face encounter gave me: these 5 days in Örebro took me to the heart of contemporary Swedish theatre in its broadest sense. I discovered a theatre which is active, which moves forward through direct, in-depth work and which regularly questions itself. All the performances, round tables and readings I was able to attend, and all my discussions with people I met there enthralled me.

To start with, two productions had a major impact on me: Babydrama by Ann-Sofie Bárány, directed by Suzanne Osten, and Invasion by Jonas Hassen Kherimi, directed by Farnaz Arbabi (winner of the Biennial’s All Category Grand Prize this year).

Watching the tiny spectators of
Babydrama delight in this wonderful production, I SAW, with my own eyes, the innate theatrical instinct that each of us has balled up inside, hidden deep down, waiting to be awoken. I SAW these babies laugh and fall silent, suddenly overcome. I saw them both crawl forward to touch the actors and jump with joy. They leant their heads gently towards the masks which resembled them in every detail... It was unbelievable and yet so obvious! I also appreciated the intensity of the tone used for this mini-audience and the suitability of the language, writing and direction for those it sought to address. The theatrical strength of the play, along with its richness and aesthetic, quickly swept me along, moved as much as they were!

Invasion, for its part, is a magnificent contemporary rock poem about the pain of immigration, as well as the strength of language, the power of a single word, urban solitude and manipulation. With the human element placed firmly at its heart, the production held as much humour as violence or emotion. It is intended not just for adolescents, whose hearts it must surely touch with a rare accuracy, but for adults too. How could one forget the immigrant scapegoat’s poignant first stuttering attempts at Swedish, or his contrasting fascinating lyricism in Farsi? The horror of the mistranslation? The counter-chronology of the nightclub scene which stutteringly repeats itself? The incredible energy of the actors who have us in fits of laughter one minute and fighting back tears the next? May these two shows one day come to France!

I also found two theatre spaces in Stockholm, as different from each other as they were similar in dramatic and artistic effervescence and drive: “Unga Klara”, directed by Suzanne Osten and “Scenario”, run by an artists’ collective centred around Daniela Kullman and including Farnaz Arbabi, director of “Invasion”, Malin Axelsson and Gertrud Larsson. With Malin and Gertrud I spoke a lot about work, writing, language and personal experiences. These two active and open theatres ask themselves strong and inventive questions about their relationship to the audience and contemporariness, as well as about contemporary theatre, language, narration and fiction. And all this within a dynamic of perpetual progression and reflection which inevitably draws us closer.

What I also discovered through all the performances and readings at the Teaterbiennalen was the humour, the clowning, and the absurd with which these raw, realist and socially engaged Swedish plays are put on. French theatre’s tendency to read these plays more at face value and perform them accordingly inevitably leads to a different place.
There is also the seriousness and intensity of the actors towards the young audience; the identical artistic commitment in their work for the young as in their work for adults: a pure delight!
And then there is spontaneity as an integral part of theatricality with these readings sent out live which sound so true.
And then there is the true consideration of the audience, the immense attention paid to them and their correspondingly open and generous reaction.
And then there is the prompter, a lost figure in our theatres, here sitting in the front row with a little blue lamp!
And then… and then… the song from
Babydrama. With our multicoloured feathers planted firmly in the boxes. The apple green of the Biennial t-shirts. The word “precisss”. The cackling of the wild geese in the crowd of professionals in the great white bar tent, the evening, when you close your eyes (it’s “Ank! Ang!”, they’re here!). All the young high-school graduates in their outdated ball gowns who came to dance in the hotel at nightfall. The lead statue of the green horse in the quiet courtyard. The teenage goths (if only Stringberg were young today!). The perfume of purple lilacs. The umbrellas of light in the almost empty restaurant. The clear smell of the cold wind. “Morgon”, “vi ses”, “det er bra”. The taste of salty liquorice. The music of the Swedish language. The long battered American cars of the raggare cruising across town, windows open, rock music pumping. And then the day already breaking, on the last night at about 2.30 a.m., as we head home to the hotel, happy and exhausted by the night’s talk and dancing…

These five days in May 2007 in Örebro were the first fascinating step of our project which is now building in momentum, one foot in each country. Thank you for offering us this space and this time to really start to get to know each other! Yes, I believe that in the field of youth audience theatre the solid Swedish experience and the current French explosion can offer each other a lot. We have a genuine road to walk together side by side, a common ground to create and expand into a vast field of experimental theatre that we may survey together in all the richness of our differences.
These five days in Örebro were also for me a first adventure into a Sweden which speaks to me intuitively, from the heart. I want to come back to work one day in this country where theatre is so direct, so true and so close to subjective reality. I want to come back to continue what I started with Erik, Malin, Suzanne, Anna, Ann-Sofie, Gertrud and the others. I want to come back to write in this country of lakes and sky, to feed off the northern light and re-immerse myself in the delicate and instinctive relationship with nature; its sensations, the solitary silence broken only by the wild emotions I can, since I started writing, call my own. Hej dĺ!…*

* Good bye!...

  Karin Serres,
Vincennes (France), 31th May 2007
English translation by Matthew Parsons
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