'Complete respect to the absolute loyalty paid to the poet, when in general directors seem to know more than the author.'

George Salmony, Abendzeitung

Reviews and comments

This became Bergman's best reception thus far in Munich, though several reviewers noticed a discrepancy between Bergman the filmmaker who projected his personal self on the screen and Bergman the theatre director who apparently sought a different, less subjective form of expression. 

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).

Collaborators

Christine Buchegger
Hedda Gabler
Karl-Heinz Pelser
Jörgen Tesman
Martin Benrath
Eilert Lövborg
Gaby Dohm
Thea Elvsted
Kurt Meisel
Assessor Brack
More collaborators (9)

'Hedda in London was not a good production. All the rehearsals were plagued. I despise London.'

Ingmar Bergman

About the production

This was Bergman's first production outside Scandinavia. In England, Bergman met actors with a different rehearsal routine than in Scandinavia. 'Their professionalism and speed frightened me a little. […...] They had learned their lines by the first rehearsal. As soon as they had the scenery, they started acting at a fast tempo. I asked to slow down a little and they loyally tried to, but it bewildered them'.

A number of reviews sensed a mismatch between director and actress, and complained about the icy coldness of Bergman's vision of Hedda's surrounding.

 

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).

Collaborators

Maggie Smith
Hedda Gabler
Jeremy Brett
Jörgen Tesman
Robert Stephens
Eilert Lövborg
Jeanne Watts
Juliane Tesman
Sheila Reid
Thea Elvsted
More collaborators (6)

'Bergman's consistent mastery of lighting has never been so perfected as here.'

Henrik Sjögren

Images/movies

Collaborators

Gertrud Fridh
Hedda Gabler
Ingvar Kjellson
Jörgen Tesman
Georg Årlin
Eilert Lövborg
Renée Björling
Juliane Tesman
Jane Friedmann
Thea Elvsted
More collaborators (9)

'For us the rehearsals of THE MAN, as we call the play, have been moments of spiritual recreation after the day's work.'

Ingmar Bergman

About the production

Shakespeare is a playwright Bergman returned to time and time again. He staged two additional performances of Macbeth in the 1940s alone: at Helsingborg City Theatre in 1944 and in 1948 at Gothenburg City Theatre.

As he was preparing his first staging of Macbeth, he wrote in SFP-bladet:

In my opinion, the pleasure of this piece lies in its combination of sharp psychological analysis, the tale's gruesome, marvellous tone and the criminal suspense and logical stringency, making for a genius piece of drama.

Bergman regarded the play as a dark tale, yet never voiced any connections to the world at large or Nazism in particular. In his 1944 production, however, he changed all that, writing in the programme notes that his interpretation of Macbeth is as an anti-Nazi piece.

Numerous collaborators in the play were drafted, requiring laborious efforts to convince the numerous military captains to grant these individuals permission to remain in order to stage the premiere. Nonetheless, the play was held as planned and was staged at Flickläroverket (Girl's Secondary School) in Stockholm. Even at this early stage in his career, Bergman displayed an ability to work with the set designers to create expressively impressive backdrops, which worked hand in hand with the acting and direction. The stage design, under the direction of Ruben Zehlén and Torsten Ohlsson, impressed many of the critics. When Bergman staged Macbeth in Gothenburg in 1948, he used the same set design.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Bergman, The Magic Lantern.
  • Henrik Sjögren, Lek och raseri: Ingmar Bergmans teater 1938-2002, (Stockholm: Carlssons Bokförlag, 2002).
  • Margareta Wirmark (red.), Ingmar Bergman film och teater i växelverkan, (Stockholm: Carlssons Bokförlag, 1996).

Images/movies

More images/videos (4)

Collaborators

Sture Djerf
Barbro Hiort af Ornäs
Svea Sjögren
Olle Brunell
Inga Nicklasson
More collaborators (6)

'One of the best productions of my life, one of the most enduring, strongest, most intense and angry productions I have ever staged.'

Ingmar Bergman

About the production

'Blood is the theme of this interpretation,' wrote Ingmar Björkstén in Svenska Dagbladet. Michael Bonnesen, writing in the Danish Politiken, also described how the production emphasises violence and Hamlet's powerlessness, both personal and political. This was borne out especially in the violent final scene, in which Fortinbras' leather-clad soldiers, armed with machine guns, burst in and mowed down everyone in their way to the accompaniment of thunderous Danish rock music. This ending prompted a number of associations with a fascist military dictatorship, where morality is as notable in its absence as it was under Claudius' regime.

Bergman re-worked the original text considerably. For example, he moved the 'To be or not to be' monologue to the scene in which Hamlet instructs the travelling players before the performance of the play intended to reveal the circumstances of the murder of his father. By transposing this monologue, he emphasised one particular theme of his interpretation: life as theatre, theatre as life. Hamlet became an actor in the drama about his own life. Many critics noted this in their reviews, together with the striking physical similarity between Peter Stormare and the young Ingmar Bergman.

Bergman also got certain actors to double up in different roles, further emphasising his own interpretation of the play. For example, Claudius was played by Ulf Johanson, who also appeared in the role of the gravedigger. Per Myrberg played both the ghost, who reveals to Hamlet what actually happened, and the principal actor of the travelling players, to whom Hamlet addresses the 'To be' monologue.

In Bergman's production, Ophelia became a more central character than is usually the case. She was on the stage all the time, even in the scenes in which she had no speaking part, a dumbstruck, terrified witness to the action. Writing in Arbetet, Bertil Palmqvist noted the dream-like atmosphere of the production, in which the borders between the internal and external were erased. This was especially true of the portrayal of Ophelia, which Palmqvist interpreted as Bergman presenting the nightmare of Ophelia, 'this young person's painful experience of the world's brutality'.

The production went on tour to London and New York, where it was generally well received, being regarded as refreshingly youthful, raw and modern. Even though it did not work in parts, the overall impression was positive. One critical voice in New York, Clive Barnes, felt that 'Bergman's Hamlet is a 20th-century neurotic who, at best, is ready for the psychiatrist's couch, at worst, for the morgue: [...] a mismatch in which the characters appear bizarre, verging on the perverse'. But he did concede that, 'The performance is nonetheless full of energy that casts an extraordinary light on the play'.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Bernt Olsson och Ingemar Algulin, Litteraturens historia i Sverige, (Stockholm: Norstedts Förlag, 1987).
  • Henrik Sjögren, Lek och raseri: Ingmar Bergmans teater 1938-2002, (Stockholm: Carlssons Bokförlag, 2002).
  • Per Arne Tjäder, Fruktan, medkänsla och kritisk distans: Den västerländska dramateorins historia, (Studentlitteratur, 2000).

Reviews and comments

A number of critics noted the pared back and somewhat raw qualities of the production. Carlhåkan Larsén writing in Sydsvenska Dagbladet:

Ornamentation has been stripped away, what remains is the bare stage, the empty void. Beams of light sculpt various acting spaces, other props appear only sparsely. Gradually one notices the dark walls that encompass the wide stage. It is like being at the bottom of a cistern.

Peter Stormare received praise for his powerful and dynamic performance, a worthy combination of hot and cold. His interpretation of the role was seen as multi-dimensional, with warmth and authenticity alongside 'sarcastic verbal artistry' and furious outbursts. Not least the particular warmth in the meeting with Ophelia. 'Stormare has a naked, almost skin-less presence that gives vigour to the production.' (Sverker Andréasson, Göteborgs-Posten)

But not everyone was equally impressed by Stormare's Hamlet. Palmqvist described his performance as lacking in rhythm, devoid of the nuances and of the charm that Hamlet nonetheless possesses. Stormare himself ought to learn from the advice that Hamlet gives the players: not to 'saw the air too much' with his hands, nor to 'split the ears of the groundlings' with his booming voice. Most negative in her criticism was Tove Ellefsen writing in Dagens Nyheter,– a review which sparked off a debate about the very nature of drama criticism. Ellefsen thought the production was highly conventional, concluding that, 'No, this is not a Shakespeare worthy of Bergman. Nor indeed a Bergman worthy of Shakespeare'.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Henrik Sjögren, Lek och raseri, Ingmar Bergmans teater 1938-2002, ( Stockholm: Carlsson Bokfölag, 2002).
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).

Guest performances

Italy, Florence, Pergola Theatre, 10-12 January 1987
The electricity needed for the performance made the electric company in town shut down the lights in two villages outside of Florence, as well as at a fashion show. The reception of the performance was mixed, but it was a great audience success. There was a critical consensus in that this was Bergman's Hamlet as much as Shakespeare's. 'This was the same Shakespeare that mixed magic and death in Fanny and Alexander,' one critic wrote.

UK, London and Edinburgh, Lyttleton stage, National Theatre, 10-15 June 1987
One critic wrote, 'This is the most vital production of Hamlet I've seen in years. Though I speak no Swedish, it kept me at the edge of my seat throughout a marvellous evening […...] Bergman and his actors have revived, in Swedish, a play on the British stage which we have come to regard, in the last decade, as a tiresome exam test.' Other reviews were more critical and echoed the Swedish reception. One stated, 'Why the National Theatre invited (Bergman) to bring this vulgar and pretentious production of Hamlet …is a mystery to me.'

USA, New York, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), 10-17 June 1988
There were a total of eight performances at BAM. The performance was visited by the Swedish King and Queen because of the New Sweden jubilee, celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Swedish founding of a colony in America in present-day Delaware. The reviews were mixed, from the remark, 'I can't think of any modern director who has turned words into flesh so consistently, and with such obsessive force, as Bergman does here', to negative responses of Bergman's 'mish-mash' of styles and time periods.

Japan, Tokyo, The Globe Theatre, 2-3 and 5-9 July 1988
Seven performances were given and although the audience was very attentive, the actors found the response tame.

The Soviet Union, Moscow, Stanislavsky's Artistic Theatre, 27 September-1 October 1988
In Moscow the Hamlet production was part of a double bill with Bergman's staging of Miss Julie. Bergman's approach was considered that of a daring traditionalist turned radical man of the theatre. One critic called the performance 'a shattering theatre experience'.

Sources

  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).

Images/movies

More images/videos (39)

Collaborators

Börje Ahlstedt
Claudius
Peter Stormare
Hamlet
Per Myrberg
Horatio
Gunnel Lindblom
Gertrude
Ulf Johanson
Polonius
More collaborators (36)

'Moralists from across the city, unite! Here some things are said and done!'

Elis Andersson, GP

About the production

The stage setting foreshadowed the desert procession in Bergman's TV film Fanny and Alexander more that 30 years later, with its cavalcade of beggars, itinerant performers and pilgrims traversing the Iberian landscape.

This was termed both a sensational and trying production. The critical consensus was that Bergman had achieved a visual tour de force. 'One's eyes are busy all evening long, watching more or less impassioned images, [...] a strange series of wild and nauseous, painful and solemn scenes. [...]"

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).

Reviews and comments

Olof Lagercrantz in Dagens Nyheter objected to the Swedishness of the actors. According to him, they did not have 'enough spice in their temperament to give the right pungent flavours that Spanish popular dishes deserve'.

Another critic wrote that this rather demanding and sensational production would not be a popular one, regardless of its impressive stage design. 'Should the audience stay away, they cannot be blamed. There has to be a certain limit to what the administration can demand in terms of receptivity by those sitting in the theatre, even if one presents a spell-binding spectacle of sophisticated technical stage features.'

 

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).

About the play

Divine Words is a macabre, Goya-inspired burlesque set in Spain at the turn of the century. Mari-Gaila is married to Pedro Gailo and they have a daughter, Simonina. Mari-Gaila is a very beautiful woman who has every man falling at her feet. Even the local blind man is bowled over by her as she tours the pubs dancing for the men. The women in the village are scandalised by her behaviour, being so friendly with the men, but curiously, they have a certain respect and admiration for her. All except Pedro's sister, Marica, who feels that Mari-Gaila has brought shame on the family.

Pedro has two sisters, Marica, a widow, and Juana, also a widow who has a severely mentally and physically disabled son, Laureano. As was the tradition at this time with such people, Juana takes to the road with her son, showing him off as a freak at various fairs around the country and generally making a fortune out of him. When Juana is taken ill on the road and dies, there is a fight amongst her family as to who will care for Laureano, each knowing that he would earn them a fortune.

Eventually it is decided that Marica and Pedro will share the responsibility and take turns to look after him. While she is on the road with 'the cart', Mari-Gaila is introduced to the Seventh Miau, a mysterious fellow who has the ability to see into the future. They fall in love, but when Laureano dies and their affair is discovered, Mari-Gaila's world falls apart as she is tortured by the locals.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.

Images/movies

More images/videos (3)

Collaborators

Kolbjörn Knudsen
Septimo Mjau
Ulla Malmström
Maria Schildknecht
Juana the beggar
Herman Ahlsell
Laureano
Yngve Nordwall
Pedro Gailo
More collaborators (26)

'A flashingly intelligent play.'

Lars Ring, Svenska Dagbladet

About the play

Tabori's drama, part meta-theatrical farce, part Jewish morality play, is full of intertextual quotes and references to the Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton. On the farcical level it presents a rehearsal that ends in disarray; as a morality play, it depicts a series of disasters throughout the history of mankind where God has decided not to intervene.

As Christina Lundberg stated in Västerbottenskuriren, 'Seriousness shares the space with farce in a performance spiced with extravagant humor.'

 

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.

Images/movies

More images/videos (21)

Collaborators

Johan Rabaeus
Mr J
Basia Frydman
Mrs Mopp
Inga-Lill Andersson
Teresa Tormentina
Bibi Andersson
Ernestina van Veen
Björn Granath
Jafet
More collaborators (35)

'The Merry Widow is like a wonderful old kerosene lamp. One must be careful not to put electric lights in it. It has to be treated with care and must not be modernized.'

Ingmar Bergman

About the perfomance

In the early 1970s Barbra Streisand asked Bergman to make a film version of the operetta, with her in the leading role. Bergman wrote a synopsis, but a film never came out of it.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.

Reviews and comments

Bergman's operetta production was a huge public success and changed his image as a theatre director. Up to then, his work had been associated with dark dramatic subjects. That he would bother to produce an operetta took reviewers by surprise, but they were delighted at the humour and ironic touch of The Merry Widow; where Bergman's angst had been 'replaced by a spurting joie de vivre'.

What excited the critics the most was Bergman's upgrading of a popular middle-class form of entertainment to a refined and sophisticated theatre art.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide (Amsterdam University Press, 2005)

Collaborators

Åke Askner
Baron Mirko Zeta
Britta Larke
Valencienne
Gunnel Nygren-Almquist
Valencienne
Per Grundén
Count Danilo
Gaby Stenberg
Hanna Glawari
More collaborators (22)

'Pleasant entertainment, skilfully acted throughout.'

Bom, Kristianstad's Newspaper

About the production

Bergman's role as director wasn't the focus of this production, and his name is likewise not mentioned in the majority of reviews.

Collaborators

Erland Colliander
Professor Tygesen
Ingrid Luterkort
Karen Tygesen
Kerstin Boström
Helga
Marianne Lenard
Birgit Römer
Hugo Tranberg
Professor Turman
More collaborators (5)

'It's as if Strindberg and Bergman got together over a few beers and decided to modernise Ibsen.'

Stefan Eklund, Borås Tidning

Reviews and comments

Bergman's radical re-working of Ibsen's original was commented on by many critics. Summing up Bergman's version, Ingegärd Waaranperä in Dagens Nyheter remarked: 'He is playing, of course, with Ibsen, with Strindberg, and with the actors. In his own unique way he moves between decades, dramatists and productions, cutting and pasting, contriving with just a hint of mendacity.' Several others remark on the strong personal stamp that runs through Bergman's version, drawing clear comparisons with the director's own life. Björn Widegren in Gefle Dagblad:

[Bergman] has pictured himself as a young man in the young Osvald; pictured his mother, perhaps in Mrs Alving (think of  Pernilla August in The Best Intentions) and most definitely his father in the dead Chamberlain Alving, the memory of a scoundrel in a starched collar, also called Erik, Ingmar's father's name.' 

Peter Luthersson in Süddeutsche Zeitung observes that one can discern Bergman coming to terms with his own life in the production:

Everything is here. Yet Bergman is not merciless on himself, nor even harsh. Counsel for the defence and prosecution speak with the same voice, swapping places. The true and the false are mixed together, juxtaposed. Ingmar Bergman goes just so far– but no further.

Ingegärd Waaranperä continues:

Reconciliation and comfort emerge, not simply from one point of disquiet in the play but from all its aspects, through tiny fissures in the text and the acting, springs of humour bubble forth, sudden self-awareness, human warmth and disarming honesty. This older Bergman is more contented, secure and cheerful in disposition than the young Bergman ever was.

Lars Ring in Svenska Dagbladet comments on the red clown's nose that Bergman placed on Jonas Malmsjö's Osvald: "It is hard to see this as anything other than a very personal comment from Bergman: with an oblique grin he paints Osvald as an egotistical, opinionated and Oedipal young Ingmar". Yet Ring also observes that this aspect of the production is not hammered home to the audience, but functions rather as a background reinforcement of what is happening on the stage. Many critics also see parallels between Ibsen's scourging of bourgeois mendacity and hypocrisy and Bergman's own outbursts against the bourgeois environment with which he had been familiar since childhood.

Certain criticism was aimed both at the production itself and Bergman's own adaptation of the play, regarded by some as rather self-indulgent. Writing in Borås Tidning, Stefan Eklund felt that the overall effect was not entirely successful: "It feels as if Strindberg and Bergman have got together over a few beers and decided to hot up Ibsen." None found it boring, yet many felt it to be more striking than affecting. Yet although the production was regarded by some as rather flat and not particularly dynamic, the acting itself drew admiration. Pernilla August was praised unreservedly by many critics for her strong and enlightened interpretation of the role of Mrs Alving. Leif Larsson in Västerbottens-Kuriren observed that:

[...] …although we rarely forget that we are at the theatre, something quite exceptional happens. When Pernilla August delivers her monologue about her dead husband's lecherousness, his deceit and baseness, it is as if time and space are dissolved, leaving only a woman who has been hurt, a person who in her bitterness and despair is forced take charge of her home at the risk of cutting herself off from her own emotions.

Several critics praised Jan Malmsjö's interpretation of Pastor Manders, a character not exactly sympathetic, yet one who does display a certain humanity. Angela Kovacs' bold interpretation of Regine adds rare weight the role. She frankly makes clear her intentions to carve a better future for herself, not least in the scene where she brusquely dismisses the offer of the carpenter Engstrand (Örjan Ramberg) to take up a place in the seamen's home. This particular Regine wants to create a life based as far as possible on her own terms, given the class constraints under which she lives.

Jonas Malmsjö's Osvald had a mixed reception. Some critics felt that he was over-acting, that his portrayal of the character failed to engage. The final scene, with a naked Osvald in the arms of Mrs Alving, also aroused mixed emotions. Some found the scene full of clichés and hyperbole, and remained completely unmoved. Others were not so negative: 'the melodramatic final death scene is the one which feels the most dated', writes Nils Schwartz in Expressen, "'yet instead of toning it down, Bergman brazenly goes for full-on sentiment in a pieta scene that verges on the incestuous. And the strange thing is that he manages to maintain my full engagement.'

Others describe the scene's ability to move the audience in more positive terms. Margaretha Levi in Norrtelje Tidning:

The final scene is a violent release, an explosion of angst that is so dreadful as to be almost unbearable. [...] It is at once both powerful and terrible. Engaging yet repulsive. It could hardly be any more distressing.

Writing in Östgöta Correspondenten, Gun Zanton–Ericsson sums up the final scene as follows:

The final image is utterly Bergmanesque, bold and touching: as naked as the day he was born to a life of lies, the son devours his own death from the hands of his mother.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).

Guest performances

Norway, Oslo, Ibsen Festival, 9-11 September 2002
Many had already reviewed the performance when it opened in Stockholm. One of the remaining reviewers was sceptical and found the performance traditional and not very creative in its focus on the text and with the actors either standing or sitting in a frontal position. The ending she called 'a piece of comic art'. In contrast, another critic thought Bergman's theatrical force was so strong it overshadowed his exaggerated and questionable ending.

UK, London, The Barbican, 1-4 May 2003
One critic called it an 'astonishing, historic piece of luck to see the Royal Dramatic Theatre of Sweden production with which the great Ingmar Bergman marks his farewell to film and theatre directing'. Many though found Bergman's Ghosts too explicit, crude, and eroticised. Other reservations were based on the impression that the performance relied too much on Bergman's filmmaking style, the seemingly use of a slow, probing camera of close-ups made the performance static.

USA, New York, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), 10-14 June 2003
This was the 11th and final Bergman guest performance in New York and it became a farewell homage to Bergman and the Royal Dramatic Theatre team. The artistic leader of BAM, Joseph Melillo, called it a painful parting and singled out Bergman's unique directorial vision, his 'conzeptualized solutions', and the ensemble's high quality acting. Several critics weren't too fond of Bergman's frank obscenity. One of them called it a way of dragging 'the implicitly obvious to the surface'. Many forgave the flaws because of the acting, especially Pernilla August was praised.

The plays crowning glory is Pernilla August. She doesn't play the role of Mrs Alving, she plays all the roles of Mrs Alving (with) a precise physicality, which only seems effortless; a voice like the mountains,– full of sudden ascents and steep drops, both dangerous and beautiful. That ought to be the envy of any actress; warmth loveliness, wit.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).

Images/movies

More images/videos (57)

Collaborators

Pernilla August
Jonas Malmsjö
Jan Malmsjö
Örjan Ramberg
Angela Kovács
More collaborators (22)