On Stages: A pint of dicks? Why names are important!
The problem with most Danish surnames is that they don’t lend themselves well to being eponymous. The ‘sen’ is final – like a death ‘sen’tence. Adding anything extra sounds like you’re stuttering like Otto in A Fish called Wanda, when he introduces himself as a CIA agent called Harvey Manfren-Jensen.
Only two Danes gave us eponyms: the poet Johan Ludvig Heiberg, from whom we got Heibergian, and more recently Inge Støjberg, who offered up Støjbergsk – not a compliment, particularly in regards to cake.
So Danish playwright Peter Asmussen is up against it in the company of British literary heavyweights Charles Dickens (Dickensian) and Harold Pinter (Pinteresque), but who knows! Maybe, if more of his work is translated, they’ll use his name to describe the kind of deep-felt, poetic unloading of the heart that his work is known for.
How does Asmussen-ian sound? Like the made-up name of a CIA operative? Or something pertaining to mouse arseholes. You see – it’s a tough gig.
Dance of destiny
“The challenge for us was to keep the soul of the text intact and find a vocabulary that was both faithful and contemporary, without losing the poetry,” explains Sue Hansen-Styles, the founder of Why Not Theatre Company, who this late winter is performing Asmussen’s monologue about loneliness, Dance with Me (Feb 27-March 21; Black Horse Theatre, Cph V; 205kr, teaterbilletter.dk).
The opening night will be the first time the work has been performed in English – and in general, much of Asmussen’s work remains in Danish, with a few notable exceptions: his play The Beach, which was performed at Krudttønden in 2013, and his contribution to the scripts of English-language films Breaking the Waves and Bridgend.
Dance with Me couldn’t be better timed, as it deals with the theme of loneliness – a problem endured not only by old people, but also the young in the age of social media, which both the queen and PM highlighted in their new year speeches.
Given his continued relevance – Asmussen died in 2016, aged just 59 – Hansen-Styles is hopeful his legacy will get bigger: “I don’t think his works are easy – they are challenging and therefore possibly not every producer’s choice – but I really hope ours isn’t the last time he will be played in a language other than Danish.”
For Hansen-Styles, in the sole role as a woman betrayed by her best friend who runs off with her husband, performing on her own will be a first.
“It’s probably one of my greatest challenges in theatre to date,” she confides. “I imagine the toughest thing about a monologue is the lack of support from other actors – on and offstage. I will soon find out!”
Asmussen was a year older than Dickens when he died, but those were different times. And in The Visit (Feb 19-March 21; Krudttønden, Cph Ø; 175kr, teaterbilletter.dk), the team from That Theatre are taking us back to 1857 to the very home he lived in.
In what will be a world premiere, director Barry McKenna and lead actor Peter Holst-Beck have penned an imagining of what it was like when HC Andersen came to visit and ended up staying for six weeks.
It’s unclear how much English he learned during the experience, but for the purpose of the play he will quickly develop a reasonable comprehension after some initial gaffs, misunderstandings and oddness.
Co-starring as Dickens is That Theatre artistic director Ian Burns, and he is looking forward to linking up with McKenna again, as well as close confidant Andrew Jeffers, a regular in his productions over the years.
“Because we know each other so well we can take short cuts during rehearsals, which have been a lot of fun so far,” he enthused, adding that he is optimistic Holst-Beck will be a hit.
“I think Peter is going to be a funny, charmingly-irritating HC, and that we’ll get a chance to see his vulnerability and a glimpse of the fantasy world he lived in,” he said.
Without giving too much away, there is more to the tale than meets the eye, and despite Dickens being “delighted” when Andersen finally leaves, they reach an accord when they stand up for one another following some harsh criticism in the press.
Beyond the indelible impact both Dickens and Pinter had on literature, both of them did have rather well-documented affairs – although the Victorian’s remained hushed up until the death of his last remaining child in 1933! To be fair, his mistress was a master of deceit as well – when she eventually married, she told her 25-year-old husband she was 23. She was in fact 37!
Pinter’s affair, with British novelist Antonia Fraser, ended in them marrying, but they were not romantically involved when he wrote Old Times (Jan 29-Feb 2; Krudttønden, Cph Ø & Feb 5-15, Matrikel1, Cph K; 175kr, teaterbilletter.dk) in 1971, despite the love triangle it depicts.
During the first run of the House of International Theatre production at Krudttønden, Dina Rosenmeier co-starred with Andreas Lyon and Jana Pulkrabek, but for the second at Matrikel1, she’ll be joined by real-life husband and wife, HIT regular Tom Hale and well-known Danish actress Camilla Søeberg (Manifesto).
For Rosenmeier, herself a well-known Danish actress who after a stateside spell is increasingly favouring English-language productions, the casting of Søeberg is a real coup, but the retention of Jeremy Thomas-Poulsen as director is again HIT’s trump card.
“Jeremy has such a gentle way of directing – he is acutely aware of the potential he can pull out of his cast and he has an unmatched ability to push past our boundaries,” she said.
“I have come to trust him to the extent he can guide me to do things I never previously would have imagined. For example, in this Pinter play I have to sing quite a few lyrics from various songs. Singing absolutely terrifies me – yet with his guidance I am now overcoming this fear.”
Thomas-Poulsen, meanwhile, is relishing the chance to take another stab at Pinter following the success of The Lover with Pulkrabek and Hale last year.
“In this adaptation, we’re focusing on the intimacy of the relationships and exploring the characters’ sexual pasts and present desires,” he revealed.
“Pinter wrote characters who are not lofty poetic creatures, but creatures of the earth, of dirt and sex, of pleasure and pain. We’re exploring Pinter’s universe through the emotional context of three people who desperately need each other physically.”
Rosenmeier concurs. “It is no accident that Pinter is one of the most important playwrights of our time and the themes of Old Times are all universal,” she said. “Everyone will relate to something within the relationships of the characters.”
Elsewhere, HIT are welcoming two Italian guest performances in March – Bluff by Panda Project and Stil Belinda by PK-Rummet – and then staging three international guest productions, along with a new HIT production (yet to be announced) in May.
The Copenhagen Theatre Circle’s spring production is a pair of one-act comedies by Anton Chekhov: The Wedding and The Proposal (April 11-26, Russian Cultural Centre, Vester Voldgade 11, Cph K), and is it again holding its Fringe Festival (May 14-16; ctcircle.dk).
Copenhagen Stage (May 28-June 6; cphstage.dk/en) is returning to take over the city’s stages for ten days.
And finally, A Column of Fire with English supertitles (March 1-29, Sat & Sun 15:00; Bellevue Teatret, Strandvejen 451, Klampenborg; 350-450kr, discounts for under-25s – email email@example.com) is the latest of Ken Follett’s medieval novels set in the town of Kingsbridge (this time set in the Elizabethan Age) to be given the musical treatment.
A Danish team of writers started adapting them in 2016 – and they’re proven to be a huge success with the Danish public.
You would have thought an English version would make sense, but sometimes – with the likes of Asmussen – you simply need someone brave enough to get the job done.