Theater of Cruelty

The memories of an anarchist

CALL / Jens Bjørneboe has made a storyline where Emma Goldman remembers the many events in her life. Here is a report from Grusomhetens Teater's rehearsal of Red Emma.


Is not about the play anarchismn? Just as Arthur Rimbaud looked forward to an eternal Christmas on earth, Jens sees Bjørneboe towards a long anarchist summer.

In 1976, Bjørneboe went straight to his goal by letting the anarchist icon Emma Goldman enter the theater stage – to give us an insight into the consequences of expressing his revolutionary message in America and Stalin's Russia. Bjørneboe lets Emma goldman be her mouthpiece – through her the spectator will see the possibility of being able to combine socialism and freedom.

Unfortunately, only the first part of the manuscript is available about conditions in the United States. We would have liked to have also had part two about Emma's stay in Russia after the exile from the USA a few years later, but Bjørneboe was exhausted and never managed to complete his large-scale work. The script we have in our hands stops in a dialogue between the main character and her close friend Aleksander Berkman, where the latter are encouraged to write their prison memoirs.


The actors sit on the floor and take notes. The theater is in the process of rehearsing the premiere of Red Emma, Bjørneboe's latest work. The intention is to announce to the spectator that she does not have to fear freedom, says the director (the undersigned).

The moment after, the ensemble is on the floor, where the first lines of the composition are drawn. Emma Goldman and Aleksander Berkman prepares his entrance. Another actor who is already in play is told to pull far to the right. Even more, further out, which means out of the scene and into the scenery. "Thank you, very good," says the director. The best thing is when the actor stays away from the stage, or that he is there, but is still absent.

"Then we take the stage again, and when you end up behind the scenes, you can continue the work in there, so that we hear you – that we hear your further involvement and thus perceive the game as subject to a different and deeper meaning, feel free to call it a metaplan . » Perhaps alienation (the concept of alienation) can be asserted. That is, we break the audience's empathy and let them understand that theater is only a means and not something final – the work behind the scenes will destroy the illusion.

Isn't the play about anarchism?

Bjørneboe was inspired by Bertolt Brecht … Possible Brecht again was inspired by Antonin Artaud – although the latter had hardly had any effect on theater when Brecht was in turn. Anyway – Artaud talks in 1946 about the alienated actor, and Brecht may have intercepted a few things from there before he described his alienation technique.

Artaud and Brecht

Isn't the play about anarchism? Well, then anarchy lies lurking behind the scenes, everywhere it is played on unknown alloys – a content finds its form, but also vice versa. Like two people figure it out with each other. Moreover, such "dangerous traits" in the stage composition meet Emma Goldmann's expressed understanding of the biased attitude of the citizen towards ideas an orderly world has encouraged him to consider dangerous. Emma points out in the play that through her speeches, the audience will experience the facts about anarchism, about the ideas they have been trained to hate and fear.

The director stops for a moment and thinks about – Red Emma would clearly have had better conditions at Det Norske Teatret. Then I do not refer to the preconditions with regard to a well-oiled theater machinery, but to the spectator's opportunity to read the story simply and straightforwardly without any underlying idea of ​​the form's sympathy with the content. At the same time, there is something inside the director that announces that the philosophy from Artaud and the Theater of Cruelty, combined with the tradition from Brecht, can help to support Bjørneboe's dark worldview.

We are doing a premiere here, which requires a responsive reading of the manuscript. Well then, the play's form expression is conventionally laid out in the sense that it is about written and spoken dialogue theater. We must remember the playwright's fascination with the physical tradition of Brecht – but it is not an avant-garde piece. Bjørneboe has made a storyline where Emma Goldman remembers the many events in her life – and the many harassments the power exposed her to due to her controversial presence.

We must present the memories of an anarchist. There is no room here for the big twists and turns from our side – text dominates this piece. Some of actorne ask if not based on what I just said about relating to the convention, that the colleague's performance lasts a little too long – three to four minutes out of the spectator's field of view – and without others on stage? Yes, but just as Emma had a disturbing effect on power in her day, I believe that our play should similarly affect today's, excuse the expression, system-oriented world citizen – traditional theater or not. Anarchy has its own order – a thundering order, to quote Artaud.

Bjørneboe's relevance

The Amazon is anarchy, but this chaos is based on an absolute and detailed order. It is only to be noted that the authorities in Brazil are filled with fear of nature's uncompromising resistance and see it as their task to set fire to the entire jungle area – just as the Norwegian oil industry has set out to downplay sea life. The slogan is that everything alienated must be destroyed. Today, Bjørneboe's latest work seems absolutely relevant. The minutes outside the scene sympathize with what is different, with anarchy, with nature, the inherent irrational substance of man. Do not think that it is in any way possible to get away from here.

As stage directors, we are obliged to follow the playwright's intentions, even to sympathize with his political morals, if I may put it that way. The work's success is conditioned by our good craftsmanship. For a moment it is quiet on stage. Everyone has taken on the seriousness of the task. I see that the actor who was sent out behind the scenes, seems to have substantiated his moment.

Brutal scenes

Bjørneboe's latest work contains brutal scenes. Did he want to see the play as an extension of The history of bestiality?

After halfway through the race, violent interrogations are held in a row: Leon You are walking, the young man who assassinated President McKinley, is subjected to first and third degree interrogation until he is executed in the electric chair. Emma Goldman is also exposed to severe pressure, but in her case the government was only looking to get a regime critic behind bars and threatened with cunning torture and execution.

Some repetitions erode, in the middle of the scene where brutal blows are directed at Czolgosz's stomach, he who plays the sergeant in the third degree interrogation, throws in the towel. "We probably won't get away from here," the director repeats – the author is right – but the stage can wait. After a short break, everything is ready for the opening of the first scene. The newspaper boy gets ready. Bold headlines are shouted out from behind the scenes. Everything is a lie. The stage director despairs, he would love to see it differently.

Everything has to go down into the body, you have to rest in the text and breathe.

Bjørneboe's tendency to paint things black gradually erodes his mood. Maybe the theater should have chosen something else to work with? The newspaper boy has finished his tasks, and Emma enters the stage. Bjørneboe lets her describe how the mechanisms work, comment on the tableau with the newspaper boy, elaborate on how newspapers and governments play together. The director looks down. The main character moves around the stage, draws and explains. Without significant marking, she is soon transformed into a memoir from her first time in America after leaving Russia in the early 1880s. Partner and anarchist Aleksander Berkman is working on a bomb intended for Henry Clay Frick, billionaire and factory owner Andrew Carnegie's deputy at the Homestead steelworks in Pittsburgh. We learn that Frick has just before paid Pinkerton's private police force to shoot at the workers who, due to lower wages, had started unrest at the factory.

The content is convenient

Emma recalls further. I concentrate on the technical. We are in scene 10: “In the years that followed, I was either a speaker or in prison. I was once arrested for giving a lecture on Ibsen – I was not allowed to mention his name. " She who plays Emma is told that the first word in the line must have a better pronunciation. Words are materiality in theater. Text is material power. Are you breathing?

The newspaper boy, who is again with his shouts, seems stressed in the estimate, and the headlines can hardly be perceived from my place in the back row. Everything has to go down into the body, you have to rest in the text and breathe – then you get everything out without having to use a lot of force and volume. The shouts are made aware, technically formulated, and the content finds its way.

Jens Bjørneboe's latest work deserves good craftsmen. Once again, the distorted news image in the room sounds. It was good, the diction was also impeccable, since you let the text rest in your body. Then we unfortunately have to go back to scene 21, the execution of Leon Czolgosz. The chair is taken in, and people take their positions. "Please," I say.

Lars Øyno
Lars Øyno
Theater director and writer. See also Theater of Cruelty or Wikipedia

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