A visit to The Royal Dramatic Theatre, (Den kungliga dramatiska teatern,Dramaten) has been on my wish list ever since I moved to Sweden. For some reason or another (being lazy, skint, cynical, snooty or ignorant about the productions) I’ve never been. And this has been like a thorn in my side. For my birthday this year, my wife promised that she and I would go over the autumn. A loving, romantic gesture to go to Dramaten together. Beautiful.
And then Al Pitcher rang. He had two tickets to see a show ..... AT DRAMATEN!
I threw all caution to the wind and risking my own marriage, I said YES! and WHEN! and WHAT! and before I even got an answer to those questions, I said: "I’LL BE THERE! I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO GO TO DRAMATEN! I LOVE YOU!".
My wife who was in the same room, was not impressed. She may have even told me as much, but I was already dancing round the house singing - “I’m going to Dramaten! I’m going to Dramaten!”.
My twelve year old son didn’t share my joy and simply asked why I was so excited about visiting a car park in Linköping town centre. With a dramatic flourish, I told him that he was thinking of Detektiven or possibly Druvan, and I casually called him a Philistine. He sloped off to quietly play a round of League of Legends on the computer, which I think is his way of showing empathy with my excitement. Good boy.
The show was called The Mental States Of Sweden in Dance. And there is nothing wrong with that. No reason to be alarmed. No reason to be remotely cynical. Not at all. Deal with it. Here’s the trailer:
I met up with Al in Stockholm and we got to Dramaten in good time and we wallowed in the splendour of the building, the golden statues, the ornate facade, the legacy of Strindberg, Bergman, and that bloke from the Dragon Tattoo films. This was it. I was going to Dramaten.
We walked up the door of the theatre, pushed, pulled, pushed again then looked through the windows to see an empty foyer. Panic. Checked tickets and they definitely said Dramaten … but Dramaten at Elverket!
I’d been sold a lie! I was tempted to phone my wife and beg for reconciliation, but there wasn't time as we had to run up the road to the Elverket.
We got there sweaty and just in time. Admittedly Elverket is now a very fancy theatre with a bistro, but it’s still essentially an old electrical works that has been converted into a theatre. It's now the kind of place that electrical engineers would never set foot in unless it was to do some rewiring, but is filled with artistic cognoscenti who dress in dungarees and work style boots that have never been close to manual labour. The legacy is waiting to be created as nobody ever talks about the time that back in 1953, a middle-aged man called Lasse, whose nickname was 'Chocken', changed the main fuse with a set of adjustable spanners, ending a 1 hour power cut in Östermalm.
And the show? Did The Mental States of Sweden In Dance as performed by the Cullbergballeten deliver?
We sat, we watched, we were impressed, entertained, at times confused and at times entranced. We saw dance, movement, nudity and talent; heard voices of the establishment and the excluded, the young and the old and one woman who talked about 'Big Boobies' stopping her dancing. There were moments of laughter, moments of tragedy and moments of stunned silence, only interrupted by the sound of Al rustling through his bag of pick and mix sweeties that he’d brought into the theatre. I tried to stop him, I really did, but while you can take the boy from Huddersfield, you can't take the Huddersfield from the boy.
After the show, I tried and failed to enlighten Al about the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis and to see the show from a Barthesian point of view......but mainly we just laughed at the fact that in this temple of high culture, amongst the cultural elite of Stockholm, somebody taking their clothes off onstage is still quite uncomfortable and that someone saying 'Big Boobies' gets as big and as childish a laugh at Dramaten as it does in a stand up club.. if not bigger.
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