Arne Lygre’s new play asks that very question.
Arne Lygre is one of few Norwegian playwrights with international success, which means that the opening of a new Lygre play might as well take place in Stockholm or Paris. This fall, however, Lygre’s most recent effort will have it’s world premiere at The National Theatre in Oslo, as part of this year’s Ibsen Festival. In Let you be we meet a group of people at their most vulnerable. They all have one thing in common: They need somebody. A friend. An acquaintance. Maybe even a stranger.
– My plays often start with a few key words which I then continue to work around, says Lygre.
– In this case there was one word that stood out and that was grace. The feeling of being at the mercy of another human being and not being able to take care of yourself.
We meet a woman who has been unfaithful to her husband. Another woman has been betrayed. One man says to a complete stranger: “I want a friend.” The characters in Lygre’s world are brutally honest, both with themselves and with each other.
– My plays have always had these two levels, one where the characters speak in a normal way, as you and I do now, and another level where I try to show more of the situation. When the two of us talk, I’m also thinking things to myself that I don’t say to you and vice versa. I want to show both of these dimensions, and in my most recent plays they have pretty much merged into one level.
When you look at the pages of La deg være the play appears to have five characters: Man, Enemy, Friend, Stranger and Acquaintance. In reality each of them represent several people, where only a few words indicate when a new voice takes over and begins to tell a different story. The reluctance to identify his characters through specific clues is what keeps you at edge of your seat while watching a Lygre play. It’s also part of what makes them so powerful.
– The theatre has the possibility to make words stronger than images, says Lygre.
– What is being said is more truthful than what you actually see. If there is a woman on stage insisting that she is a man, she will become a man. As a spectator you cannot really trust what you see. You have to create your own images and your own play.
– Why do you choose to give the characters general names, like Friend or Stranger?
– This play very much deals with the power of words. It’s about how we become what we are to each other. A friendship can be many things, and an enemy need not be a classic foe. In general I find it difficult to give my characters specific names. I’ve tried it a few times and I just don’t feel like what I write is true when I do.
When the writing is finished, though, it’s time for Lygre to let go. Even if the director is a complete newcomer, as in this case. Lygre discovered Johannes Holmen Dahl, a recent graduate of the Academy of Arts in Oslo, at Dramatikkfestivalen in Oslo a few years ago.
– He staged a production that sparked a great interest in me. There was an openness in the way he approached theatre, but at the same time he pays a lot of attention to form. I started to follow his work, and when this collaboration with The National Theatre came about I asked if I could work with him. As it turns out, the theatre director already had him on her list.
– What is it like to put your texts in the hands of other people?
– I’m not a director myself, so I don’t get involved in that process. On the contrary I would say that I’m quite open to having different productions do different things with my texts. To me, that’s what being a playwright is all about. I write a text that is essentially literature. Then it can become theatre in a great number of ways.
Let you be opens at The National Theatre in Oslo on September 9th as part of this year’s Ibsen Festival.