When my mother came to visit me in Copenhagen for the first time in the early 1980s, she was amazed to find bearded hippies wearing Arab scarves, pregnant women sunbathing naked in Faelledparken and the whole population watching ‘Matador’ on TV. It wasn’t quite the quaint fairy-tale land she’d envisaged from reading about Hans Christian Andersen and The Little Mermaid.
The Dane in his (own) domain
But at least her preconceptions were realised when she checked out the Danish Royal Theatre. ‘Hamlet’ was playing and my mother, always an avid theatre-goer, was keen to get tickets.
“I’d like to see Hamlet the melancholic Dane played by a Danish actor,” she said as if it was on her ultimate bucket list.
“… in Danish?” I asked. She was nonplussed as I continued: In England, Holberg is played in English.”
I waited for the penny to drop. “Who is Holberg?” she asked. Then her face fell. “Does this mean that I won’t be able to understand any theatre while I am here?”
Viva la revolution
A year too late for my visiting mother, I started the London Toast Theatre to provide English-language plays to Danish and international audiences. Around the same time, Trevor Davies started his Festival of Fools, inviting theatre companies to perform in Copenhagen from all over the world.
Suddenly the theatres were filled with avant garde shows. Grotowski-inspired actors gave their all, naked dancers let it all hang out, and in the evenings I did my best to host a cabaret featuring crazy comedians from just about everywhere with names like Omelette Broadcasting, Django and Justin Time.
One evening the audience laughed when I announced the next act. I looked down and the performer had crept onstage and stuck his head between my legs! It was a chaotic, incredible and iconic breakthrough in Danish theatre life.
The city’s a stage
More than 30 years later, another theatre festival has been launched – the CPH STAGE, which is now in its third year – and from June 10-21 it will bring over 200 theatre shows to Copenhagen.
Whether they will provide us with a second dose of the wild abandon of the ‘80s remains to be seen, but a glimpse at the program shows that a large number of non-Danish shows (107 English-language, 13 non-verbal and six with subtitles) are going to be thrown our way.
I think Post readers should catch as many of them as possible and ensure that this exciting international incentive becomes a tradition. Without their support, it might flounder before it really catches on with the locals and gains a reputation abroad.
This year’s Crazy Christmas Cabaret (November to January) is ‘Don’t Touch Nefertiti’, a romp set in Ancient Egypt where crooks , mummies and grannies abound in the nooks and crannies of the Pyramids. And look out for ‘Shakespeare’s Ghost’ in March 2016. Written by Vivienne McKee to honour the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard, the play promises to examine the mystery surrounding the identity of the playwright who wrote the greatest works in English literature. Find out more at londontoast.dk