Three English actors and one heavily anglicized Swede were on Wednesday evening putting the final touches to the piece of theatre they will premiere in Malmö on Friday night.
“The jacket on really works… zany,” Michael Wighton, the Canadian assistant director, calls out, adding in a bombastic voice. “If you want it, own it. Move to Paris and become an actor.”
Quality Street: A Night at the Theatre, which opens at Malmö's Bastionen theatre this Friday, bills itself as “an evening of wit, drama, a smattering of music, classic BBC comedy moments, satire, sorrow, American humour and oodles of that wry, very British je-ne-sais-quoi”.
But it's not even the only piece of “British je-ne-sais-quoi” on the Malmö stage this week. The Play That Goes Wrong, the hit farce devised by London's Mischief Theatre, is currently running, in translation, at Nöjesteatern by the city's Folkets Park.
“People in the south of Sweden have that same sort of 'Monty Python' sense of humour,” Cornelius Löfmark, who plays Max in the production, argues. “I think also in Gothenburg, they have it, a British sense of humour.”
Vanessa Poole, the British co-founder of Playmate Theatre, the troupe behind Quality Street, is not so sure.
“I think we love to go for irony, sarcasm, wordplay, puns. It's a little bit more sophisticated,” she said. “The Swedes often think that they share a British sense of humour, but I don't think that's quite true.”
Michael Wighton, assistant director, working with the actors during the dress rehearsal on Wednesday. Photo: Richard Orange
Poole said the aim of Quality Street was to give Malmöites a taste of true Anglo-Saxon theatre in the original English.
“We are trying to give a taste of our language, our word-play, our humour,” she said. “We bring a history and a heritage in English-speaking theatre which is very strong in Britain. It's our passion, it's our craft, and we feel it's valuable.”
Poole, who has long worked as an actress in Malmö and Copenhagen as well as teaching drama in local schools, formed the theatre company with Kevin Benn, active on Malmö's theatre scene since the 1970s, and Robin Gott, an actor and teacher who had a role in Kenneth Branagh's Wallander series.
The sole Swede in the company is Boel Marie Larsson, well-known in Skåne for her touring Thales Theatre who also appeared in the Wallander series. Larsson trained as an actress at one of London's most prestigious acting schools, qualifying her as an honorary Brit.
The day after the dress rehearsal, Poole relented a little in her appraisal of the Skåne sense of humour.
“I feel it is no coincidence that Lund Comedy Festival is based specifically in Lund and sells out using international comedians,” she said. “I think Skåne and Lund have perhaps a more continental attitude to humour because they live closer to it.”