‘Doktor Glas’ at Wyndhams Theatre

It says a lot about the impact of the recent influx of quality Scandinavian television imports in the UK, that the producers of Doktor Glas had the confidence to bring it to the West End.

Performed in Swedish, it is an adaptation of a 1905  novel by Soderberg.  A one man show, the weight of the production hangs on the back of Krister Henriksson, best known to me, and many others, I presume, as ‘the actor who was the original Swedish Wallander’.

It is a darkly comic tale of a Doctor’s obsession with one of his patients, a beautiful young woman married to a repellent clergy man.  When the woman asks for the doctor’s help in persuading her husband to forgo his ‘rights’, a chain of events is set in play which results in the Doctor taking drastic action.

Henriksson tells us the story of the Doctor’s torment, sometimes playing the other characters in the tale, sometimes simply recounting events.  It was a compelling performance, making me smile at the droll mimicking of the unpleasant clergyman and the imaginings of how he might be killed, and then bringing me down with the anguish of the Doctor’s loneliness.

Set entirely within the square box of his office, a plain room with a huge space in the middle, the change in emotional tone was echoed by changes in the lighting, when the grey walls turned luminous red during a nightmare, or when shadows of the branches of the trees outside the window cast themselves in awkward angles when a terrible plan was executed.

While I did enjoy it, there was something quite odd about sitting near the front row of a  theatre, watching an actor very close by, but having to raise my eyes to read surtitles at the same time to understand what he was saying.  That feeling of disassociation was enhanced by the sound design, as it was, to my ear, rather over amplified.  It was a strange decision for Henriksson to be miked, especially as few of the people in the audience would actually understand what he was saying (!).  I had thought it might be because he was a television actor, but I’ve since read that he is one of Sweden’s foremost stage performers, so it might have been because it enabled him to whisper.  I’m not sure it was worth it, especially as the headmic was all to visible from my close vantage point.

But for all that, I did spend the whole performance (90 minutes, no interval, my favourite!) transfixed, which is a very good thing.

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