The play: Strindberg, Ibsen, Munch

As you may by now know, one of my activities at Björkö Konstnod was to write a screenplay which ended up becoming a sort of one-act play. It was about Scandinavian playwrights Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg meeting in the Afterlife, which in this case was a desert island covered with ice and snow (a little bit like Björkö, I suppose).

Ibsen and Strindberg were rival playwright in many ways, and it is known that on occasions they criticized the work of one another, even if admitting to have been mutually influenced too. But they never met in person in life, and so I thought it was interesting to write about their rivalry, but also about their possible friendship.

You can watch a reading of the play here, although the whole thing was very improvised and I think both the text and the performance would have been much improved by having time to rehearse and rewrite. As it is now, it is still an unfinished piece of work.

One interesting fact is that, although they never met personally, both authors were personal friends of the famous Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, who painted their portraits more than once. Munch also appears to have been involved in the stage design for a few of Ibsen’s plays, drawing preparatory sketches for them, and even painting the background screen for one performance.

I never worked with theatre before, so that was an added difficulty in creating this piece. I don’t even go to the theatre all that much, and of course since 2020 my visits have been even more limited, but I always liked to read plays. In fact, reading plays is much easier than reading novels, as they are just dialog, and I enjoy reading dialogs. So writing a dialog between Ibsen and Strindberg seemed a fun thing to do. Of course, in the end, it wasn’t as easy as that.

I think one of the difficulties I had was that I did not know as much about those dramatists as I thought, so it was difficult to write about them. Also, it was a bit intimidating. See, before coming to Sweden, Strindberg was for me just an obscure but interesting author whom I heard quoted in one or two films by Ingmar Bergman. But in Sweden, August Strindberg is a major national author whose books are mandatory reading in high schools and who most people have at least heard about. I suppose Ibsen’s status in Norway is even higher, as he is well-known worldwide.

But I think that it was a nice experience in the end, and I learned a lot about their lives and their work in the process.

One interesting aspect about Strindberg in particular is that he was not only a great playwright, but also a talented novelist — “The Red Room”, which I started to read at Björkö, is a funny satirical novel about Stockholm — and essayist — his “Inferno” and his “Blue Book” are interesting collections of thoughts and personal memories, the latter one very much influenced by another famous Swede, the mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg. Besides writing, he was also a talented painter and photographer. In photography, he even invented a new technique which he called “celestographs“. His paintings are also interesting and some of them can be seen at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm.