'Swedes likes slapstick and British humour': Why this theatre company is putting on Shakespeare in Stockholm for free

Gaïa Jouan
Gaïa Jouan - [email protected]
'Swedes likes slapstick and British humour': Why this theatre company is putting on Shakespeare in Stockholm for free
During the entire summer, "Parkteatern" arranges musical events as well as theatre and dance performances all around the city parks, with no admission. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

With a new adaptation of Shakespeare's classic Twelfth Night in '98 percent English, 1.5 percent Swedish, and 0.5 percent very bad French' performing outdoors, Stockholm's Polar Eclipse Theatre isn't afraid to do something different. The international founders told The Local why they think Shakespeare is made to be performed outside.


Polar Eclispe Theatre is an international theatre company based in Stockholm which puts on multilingual productions. The company was formed by a group of mostly internationals including Chris Killik, Cheryl Murphy, Pontus Olgrim and Joe Rideout.

"We met on the production of Much Ado About Nothing in 2014. We enjoyed working with each other and we decided to create our own theatre company, and continue the tradition of doing Shakespeare during summer time," says Murphy, who will be playing the role of Olivia.

The performance will be almost entirely in English, or "98 percent in English, 1.5 percent in Swedish and 0.5 percent in very bad French. At one part of the play, one character claims to talk five languages, and tries to speak French to someone who actually speaks French," as  Alex Sutton, the director, explains.

The company feels it's important to produce vibrant English content in Sweden. "Sometimes people travel from Sweden to London or New York to watch theatre," Olgrim, who plays Sir Andrew, explains.

"It's amazing that they can come see us here in Sweden. Loads of people are coming because they don't speak the (local) language."

Murphy adds that along with internationals, "lots of Swedes are coming".

"I enjoy going to theatre in Swedish, but I also enjoy the option of being able to see it in English, and it's amazing to be able to experience the text in its original language. Sometimes you can lose things with translation."

Cheryl Murphy, one of the founders of the company, playing the role of Olivia. Photo: Polar Eclipse Theatre.

The adaptation of Twelfth Night will be 90 minutes long and closely follow the heroine Viola. She is forced to disguise herself as a man, her twin brother Cesario, in order to get into the court of Duke Orsino. Orsino is madly in love with Countess Olivia, but Olivia falls in love with Viola, thinking she's a man.The only problem is that Viola loves Orsino. "It's the most contemporary play you could possibly think of," argues Sutton.

"The idea of creating a world where a girl can successfully pass herself off as a boy, a boy who is mistaken as her actual twin brother... It's very much part of that British heritage," he adds.

The play will be full of music, song, dance and laughter. "If music be the food of love, play on!" they say together, quoting the play. It will also use a structure similar to a film in order to broaden the audience. 

"It's very much a play about class structures. And to make it easier, I think what people understand is film structure. Your stars are untouchable, and then you have all the people underneath. It keeps the comedy of manners and class relevant, and more alive than just saying it's about British people obsessed with lords and ladies," Sutton explains.

Pontus Olgrim, one of the founders, playing the role of Sir Andrew. Photo: Polar Eclipse Theatre.

So be prepared for tap dancing, and Shakespeare's written lyrics put to "music that you already know, and that you would recognize".

And while the play may be from the 17th century, it's not hard to identify with the characters and the story, as explained by Sutton.

"The idea of falling in love with a person you should not fall in love with... it's an extrapolation of something we might resolve ourselves in our heard. Malvolia, for example, is ridiculed, she exposes herself for love, and there's not real resolution. That's problematic for a lot of people."

Twelfth Night will be performed in Gälarparken, Stockholm, as part of Parkteatern's summer season. A good fit as "Shakespeare is a language made to be spoken outside," according to Sutton.

Performing outdoors is a different experience, Olgrim reveals: "you see the public and they see us, you don't pretend".

"In an indoor space, you can somewhat control the audience, where they look. Outdoors, there could be an airplane, a drunk in the bushes... anything can happen."

For Alex Sutton, previously working at The National Theatre in London, directing a play in Sweden is a big first: "It's very exciting, and strangely liberating. I don't feel like I'm being judged. I have no idea what the audience it's gonna be like".

"Swedes likes slapstick and British humour, we'll be fine," Olgrim insists.

Twelfth night will be performed at Galärparken in Djugården from July 3rd to 6th at 6pm, and admission is free.


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