As silence descends and the smell of beer slowly fades after a busy festival season in Norway, the theatre scene comes back to life following a break for the summer. In Oslo, it makes its return by celebrating Norway’s greatest playwright. And if that weren’t enough, a new literature festival is also taking place down by the docks this year.
The Ibsen Festival takes place in Oslo every other year in September. This year, the National Theatre of Norway is hosting the festival from 8–19 September. The festival celebrates a playwright who was one of the main advocates for creating the National Theatre – Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen is widely considered the country’s greatest playwright – the Shakespeare of Norway, if you like.
The theatre will showcase their own productions in addition to visiting national and international productions, and there will also be other events. At 11:30 on selected dates, you will be able to join Ibsen on his daily stroll past the National Theatre and down Oslo’s main street on his way to the Grand Hotel. All you need is your smartphone. You simply download and activate audio files at given points and walk with Ibsen throughout. You will be able to listen to Ibsen’s thoughts during the walk, and you might even be instructed to let him pass or to follow him at a distance.
Apart from the four plays put on by the National Theatre, you can enjoy plays performed by visiting theatre companies in Swedish, French, Spanish and German. Of everything happening during the 12 days of this exciting festival, the highlight has to be the musical Familiar Feelings, Mixed Faces (Bekannte Gefüle, gemischte Gesichter) by this year’s winner of the International Ibsen Award, musician, composer and director Christoph Marthaler. The musical is performed in a museum and explores actors as animate display objects. The International Ibsen Award is handed out on Ibsen’s birthday as part of the festival. The winner receives NOK 2.5 million (about EUR 300,000 or USD 450,000).
The festival has changed how Ibsen is performed in Norway, putting more focus on the director rather than actors. The different takes on Ibsen by the international theatre companies have had an effect on the Norwegian perception of this iconic playwright. In other words, the festival has played an important part in challenging the traditional methods of producing classic plays in Norway.
While traditional plays are reinvented at the National Theatre, a contemporary literature festival will be launched down by the docks. God natt, Oslo (Good Night, Oslo) will take place from 13–15 September at SALT on Langkaia in Oslo. The ferries to Denmark (danskebåten) depart from here, and this area has played an important role in literary culture and the local music scene.
For three days, the area will revisit its literary history through both new and more established writers – Norwegian, Nordic and international. The festival is small-scale and intimate, with 20 confirmed authors and events so far. As the organisers want to make the festival a special experience for all attendees, they are only allowing 500 visitors each day.
Since there is currently no major literary festival in Oslo, the stakes are high for God natt, Oslo. Some of the big names this year are Zeshan Shakar, an acclaimed writer whose debut novel came out in Norway last autumn, Nell Dunn, a British playwright and author, and internationally acclaimed Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri.
So if you enjoy contemporary theatre and would like to take a stroll with Ibsen, or if you have an interest in Nordic and international literature, why not visit the Norwegian capital this autumn and see what treats it has to offer?