The Ibsen Festival is Norway’s biggest theatre festival which celebrates and discusses Norway’s most important playwrights and poets at all time. And if Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) truly saw anyone, he saw women.
Among other works this year, the festival presents three versions of the lyrical play Peer Gynt; one French, one Swedish and of course one in the original language Norwegian. Since 1876 there have been 3,086 productions of Peer Gynt globally.
Henrik Ibsen wrote modern, realistic dramas, and many of his later works were ahead of the curve for the development of modernist and expressionist theatre. It is hard to overstate the importance of Henrik Ibsen’s work to Norway’s cultural heritage; but then, as an Ibsen-filled autumn reminds us, his status is just as high on the world stage.
Great influence on the present generation
Ibsen grew up in the small coastal town of Skien, located in Telemark, on the west coast of Norway: the oldest of five children. An affluent family, his father was a successful merchant and his mother painted, played the piano and enjoyed trips to the theatre. From an early age Ibsen himself expressed an interest in becoming an artist.
Ibsen left Norway in 1862, eventually settling in Italy for a short period. While he was there he wrote Brand, a five-act tragedy about a clergyman whose feverish devotion to his faith cost him his family and ultimately his life. This was the play that made him famous in Scandinavia. Two years later, Ibsen created one of his masterworks, Peer Gynt, a modern take on the Greek epics of old.
“Ibsen has been the greatest influence on the present generation; in fact, you could say that he formed it to a great extent,” wrote (a very young) James Joyce in 1900.
Ibsen Festival in Oslo 2018 presents French, Norwegian and Swedish versions of Peer Gynt
The Ibsen Festival 2018 offered several productions of Peer Gynt. One Swedish, from Dramaten, directed by Michael Thalheimer, and one French, from CDN de Normandie-Rouen directed by David Bebée. In addition, the festival collaborated on a co-production at the Norwegian Theatre, starring Thoralv Maurstad.
Peer Gynt is called a Nordic Faust and the German star director Micael Thalheimer, one of Europe’sd most renowned directors, moved his production of Peer Gynt from Dramaten in Strockholm to a performance at the National Theatre in Oslo during the Ibsen Festival 2018.
Related: In the Footsteps if Henrik Ibsen
Michael Thalheimer has directed a number of major European theaters and is a regular director at the prestigious Berlin Ensemble in Berlin. His first visit to Dramaten was a guest play with Goethes Faust on the Big Stage 2006.
We were privileged to watch the Dramaten version of Peer Gynt, which through light and mysticism and Olaf Altmann’s scenographic solutions, never showed the actors make an entry on stage, they only were there, in our heads and in Peer Gynt’s head. For a Norwegian like myself, I must admit I felt the scenery somewhat too minimalistic and Peer in Erik Ehn’s adaption became never really admittedly old. I was also not always able to follow neither the spoken Swedish or the literal translation into English, partly due to noises on the stage.
However, Ibsen’s works have held up over the years because he tapped into universal themes and explored the human condition in a way unlike any of those before him. To this day, his plays continue to challenge his audiences. Author James Joyce once wrote that Ibsen “has provoked more discussion and criticism that of any other living man.”
Feature image (on top): From muchael Thalheimer’s Peer Gynt at Dramaten, Stockholm
Ibsen Festival in Oslo 2018, written by Tor Kjolberg