Director Stuart Lynch and writer Thomas Markmann have created a curious beast in this work, which they describe as a hybrid of theatre and film. It is at once a posthumous exploration of the great filmmaker’s inner life and a brief history for those less familiar with his work.
Dreyer sits alone in a study room and ponders, amongst other things, the greatest film he never made: a film about the life of Christ, a project which consumed much of his later life. As he sits there, he is visited by two of his now deceased cast members: the actress Maria Falconetti, who portrayed the titular character in Dreyer’s most famous film, ‘La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc’ (1928), and the mentally unstable Antonin Artaud, an artist/actor who played a small but pivotal role as that same film’s only sympathetic character: Massieu the monk.
The three characters collectively scrutinise – with Falconetti and Artaud possibly representing opposing facets of Dreyer’s own psyche – Dreyer’s behaviour during the period in which they collaborated on the Joan of Arc film in France. They then trace his return to Denmark, initially as a journalist, and some films later, dying alone and destitute. This unenviable fate befell all three characters.
Charlotte Munck portrays Falconetti wonderfully, alternating seamlessly between antagonist, mother and muse.
Bo Madvig’s bearded, jittery Artaud threatens to break Dreyer’s mental resolve. Madvig’s performance intermittently resembles Caesar Romero’s Joker and Christ himself which, coupled with Munck’s fiery red dress, creates a visual allusion to Jesus versus The Devil, who are both perched on Dreyer’s shoulders. Despite Dreyer’s preoccupation with religion, this seems so woefully simplistic and cliched that one presumes the suggestion is unintentional – but it is nevertheless distracting.
Lastly the renowned Norwegian actor Baard Owe (Owe notably starred in ‘Gertrud’, Dreyer’s final film) rounds off the cast playing Dreyer himself. Unlike the two others, Owe bears little physical resemblance to his real-life counterpart, but the timbre of his voice and gravitas of his performance seem to somehow embody not only the man, but the spirit of Dreyer’s entire filmography.
Lynch’s background in sculpture is betrayed by the arrangement of minimalistic props and staging, reminiscent of Dreyer’s meticulously symmetrical compositions. As for the film element, a short bookending of the main on-stage section doesn’t quite constitute the ‘hybrid’ we were promised, but it does serve to place powerful emphasis on the connection between Dreyer’s creative energies and yearnings for his biological mother.
Those unfamiliar with Dreyer would perhaps do better to see his films, and those who already admire him will learn little they don’t already know from books or documentaries. What’s left then is mere psychological speculation – it is, however, informed and entertaining speculation: a novel way to reacquaint yourself with a great artist whose close collaborators insist was a thoughtful, patient man and whose perfectionism was mistaken, most probably by those least qualified to judge, as tyranny.
‘Dreyer, Den Danske Tyran’, which is performed in Danish with English subtitles, is playing at Dagmar Teatret until April 29. For more details see InOut.