Krister Henriksson, best known for his starring role in Scandanavian detective series Wallander, has brought his performance of one-man drama Doktor Glas to the West End's Wyndham's Theatre following its run at Sweden's National Theatre.
Adapted from the novel by Hjalmer Söderberg and performed in its original Swedish with English surtitles, it tells the story of a 19th century physician who falls madly in love with the beautiful young wife of a corrupt clergyman.
Directed by Henriksson and Peder Bjurman, Doktor Glas continues to 11 May 2013.
The Swedish Wallander, Krister Henriksson, has brought his stylish, gloomy monodrama, a classic depression fest of a doomed love triangle, to Wyndham's, and will surely delight his legion of fans, though delight is just two steps from misery in a piece that reeks of Strindberg and Ingmar Bergman… Shocking, you'll agree, and the subject of a famous Swedish novel by Hjalmar Söderberg that playwright Allan Edwell adapted some 30 years ago for another great actor; Henriksson, who is, no mistake, definitely a great actor, and a very youthful-looking 66 year-old, recreated the role six years ago as a birthday present to himself… But why is the actor miked in the most acoustically perfect theatre in London? And the design of his study means that reading the English sur-titles - blurry at the back, too high at the front - in the stalls necessitates an amount of neck-wrangling that alienates you further.
Henriksson captures the Stockholm doctor’s wistful lyricism. At the same time he suggests his awkwardness, much of which has to do with women. Glas is both gruff and poetic, haunted and able to revel in the fact of his being so… Henriksson is a lovely speaker and evokes Glas’s articulate manner with unflinching precision. He oscillates between jocularity and despair, sarcasm and resignation… The production is Henriksson’s collaboration with director Peder Bjurman, and Bjurman provides a design that looks rather like an Edward Hopper painting… It’s fair to say that an extended piece of introspection isn’t an obvious candidate for theatrical interpretation. What’s more, Henriksson is obliged to sport an ugly microphone that juts past his right cheekbone. But this is an elegant, psychologically astute drama, and Henriksson is riveting.
The transfer from Stockholm to the West End is a bold leap: performing in Swedish, Henriksson must hold his audience with an expressiveness detached from verbal meaning, while hoping that we can pick up the gist of the story from the surtitles that flicker along the proscenium and backdrop. In the circumstances, the decision to use a microphone is odd… It also produces an incongruous distancing effect in what should be a chamber piece of agonising intimacy… It’s a pity that Henriksson’s West End debut was given to a cacophony of coughing from the audience and - shamefully - a mobile phone that rang and rang. James McAvoy would probably have stopped the show. Henriksson rose, magnificently, above it.
Henriksson is one of Sweden's great actors, and this 90-minute soliloquy as Doktor Glas – much feted in Scandinavia – is a tour de force. He co-directs with Peder Bjurman, who is also the show's masterly designer. A stark Scandinavian consulting room becomes the manifestation of a tormented mind, its changing colours – brilliantly lit by Linus Fellbom – also suggestive of morning sun, blood and snow. Doktor Glas is testing the walls of his own life… Doktor Glas's loneliness continues to deepen. And even in translation, the integrity of the writing (performed in Swedish with subtitles) compels. The play is a hybrid: thriller, metaphysical essay with poetic moments and occasional bleak jokes. It makes you long to read a novel that has been bizarrely neglected in the UK.
As a rule, an 80-minute solo performance is going to be either “showy” or “tell-y”: either crammed with tricks and tics or taking a more conventional storytelling tack which relies on the material and the performer’s magnetism to keep the audience engaged. Doktor Glas is an example of the latter… There is one teensy problemette with such an approach in this instance: the words in question are in Swedish. To be sure, there are surtitles and a consummate performance from Krister Henriksson. But it is a low-key performance, almost audaciously so… without insight into choices of word or turns of phrase, or the hinterland of ethical arguments in the original novel, one is left with a broad impression of the tale itself, which comes over simply as a kind of bourgeois proto-noir.