It turns out the dramatist Johan Ludvig Heiberg didn’t like the English much, the rugby-loving assistant director Andrew Jeffers tells me on the outside balcony at the historic Court Theatre on Christiansborg where a translated version of his Danish classic No! will be packing them out until June 22 as part of the ongoing CPH STAGE festival.
We’ve met a few times, but Jeffers can’t quite place me. “Are you the Ben who keeps on inviting me to come to the gin house on Facebook?” Self-importance is best left at home, but at this suggestion, I look justifiably horrified. Heiberg would be amused, no doubt.
“And given how much he loved this place, he’d be doing a double axel in his grave right now.”
It’s easy to see why. Built in 1767, the theatre is as magnificent as its surroundings. It’s all very well going to a capital city’s royal theatre or opera, but when you can actually go somewhere this grandiose and this close to its heart of government, that really is unique.
And it’s even got a museum. Up in the gallery, where we eventually find ourselves our own private little box (there are dozens of them), numerous original paintings tell the history of the Danish stage. And on this particular evening, the prize exhibit is a translation of the Danish comedy ‘Nej’, a comic operetta from the Golden Age of Danish culture that Ian Burns of That Theatre company has chosen specifically to give tourists a really special experience.
Burns is a fan of the classic Danish comedies from the era, and should this venture be a success, he intends to repeat the trick with translations of other such performances in the years to come.
A Danish comedy, we hear you question. From the early 19th century. Well, the truth is that the plot is ingenious, and given Hollywood’s desperation for material, it’s amazing nobody’s ever adapted this to film.
Two lovers (Sune Svanekjær and Christiane Bjørg Nielsen) face three obstacles in their quest for happiness: her father (Claus Bue), her father’s faith in a suitor (Burns) to win her heart and an impending will reading that might leave them destitute. In their bid to overcome the odds, they devise a plan that involves just saying no.
All three Danish actors, who you will probably recognise from television (all three have acted in julekalender shows), acquit themselves well. Like some ballads, Bue takes a while to warm up but he is positively belting it out (in more ways than one) come the final third; Svanekjær is pitch-perfect in his role as the randy dandy; and Nielsen (last seen with Burns in Shakespeare's Women) handles her role, and the men, with expert delicacy.
But in truth, the opening scene featuring the three of them was a little flat, and it is only upon Burns’ entrance that the show really takes off.
His choice of a spot-on Scottish Highlands accent is a perfect fit for his bellringer from Grenå in Jutland. Every time he speaks, the passion in his eyes takes you on an odyssey of campanology that he joyously brings to the music as well. Comically and physically, he is a tour-de-force, throwing himself, into the part and onto the ground at time, with infectious gusto. I have never seen him give a better performance.
But even if the show had been rubbish, there is still plenty to recommend about going to watch an authentic Danish period comedy staged in English at a historic theatre. It’s a truly unique experience. Surely even Johan Ludvig Heiberg wouldn’t begrudge us that.
The Theatre Museum at The Court Theatre
Christiansborg Ridebane 18, Cph K