Of Gods and Monsters

Yesterday I saw Robert Wilsons production of Edda in Oslo. I wish I could see it again today.

When a play is referred to as visual, it tends to have a negative ring to it. Too often, it’s noted that the aesthetics drown out the text or that the (albeit beautiful) form lacks content. I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, almost all the great theatre moments that have stayed with me are related to something visual. I don’t go to the theatre to hear text. I go to see, listen, feel.

Tiril Heide-Steen as Gygra with her husband Hyme (John Bleiklie Devik) jumping in the background. Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks.

Robert Wilson’s staging of Edda at Det Norske Teatre will be stuck in my memory for a long time. It’s not a play in the traditional sense, but rather a series of moving images with beautiful mythological landscapes where characters appear and disappear, dancing, singing and hanging from trees. Each tableau represents a little story, a small poems. To the extent that there is any action in Edda it’s as fragmented as the sources that Norse mythology springs from. It’s full of odd characters that the actors bring to life in wonderful ways, from Henrik Rafalsens as the aging, plump Odin to Gertrude Jynge serene song. The costumes are just as wonderful as the characters they embody.

Frode Winther as Tor. Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks

Those who saw Wilson’s production of Peer Gynt at the same theatre 12 years ago will surely feel at home. I did not, and I guess I’ve always felt that this was something I missed out on. That’s the thing with theatre, it’s not on Netflix. That’s why I’m grateful that I got a second chance to experience Wilsons conceptual approach to theatre yesterday. Wilson is in fact not listed as the director of the play, but as it’s concept developer. He’s responsible for both the directing, set design and lighting design, which has been his way of working for decades. It’s a method that makes all the elements come together perfectly.

Gjertrud Jynge, who has worked with Wilson before, as Volva. Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks.

The music plays a big role in Edda, part new compositions by the band CocoRosie, part music from the contemporary composer Arvo Pärt. It’s used in many different ways, from accompanying a scene to being performed by actors as if in a musical. Wilson is no stranger to collaborating with musicians – Philip Glass, David Byrne and Tom Waits are a few of his preferred partners. In the past few years we’ve seen similar collaboration between Norwegian directors, actors and musicians, such as Kjersti Horn and Nils Bech and Ane Dahl Torp and Sjur Miljeteig.

Jacques Reynaud and Alexander Djurkov Hotter have created amazing costumes for the production of Edda. Photo: Lesley Leslie-Spinks.

I often ask myself what makes young people go to the theatre today. They have, after all, grown up with a wide range of visual expression to choose from, most of them far more accessible than a playhouse. I haven’t really come of with a good answer, but I think Robert Wilson’s way of producing theatre is part of it. We will see a new generation of theatre audiences that largely view the world through images. Therefore, we should stop to think that what is visually appealing as a form that needs to be filled with content and acknowledge that it actually means something in itself. What is pretty can also be important. The gods have never looked better than they do in Oslo right now.

Edda at Det Norske Teatret until May 3rd. Header photo: Renate Reinsve as Frøya and Ola G. Furuseth as Frøy. 

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