Doktor Glas at Wyndham’s Theatre
If you happen to speak Swedish you’ll be at a distinct advantage, but this intense and brilliantly acted one-man-show still manages to captivate with the English subtitles. They do, however, take some getting used to, mainly because you don’t want to take your eyes off Krister Henriksson.
Having achieved international fame with his portrayal of Kurt Wallander (the captivatingly morose Swedish detective), it is clear that Henriksson is not a man content with resting on his laurels. One of the most critically acclaimed actors in Sweden, he also co-directs here with fellow Swede and set designer Peder Bjurman.
Hjalmar Söderberg’s novel (from which the play is adapted) caused a scandal on publication in 1905 due to its controversial sexual themes and challenging conceptions of morality. Indeed, the doctor questions the very rules that hold society together, from the supposed right of married men to have sex with their wives, to whether it can ever be a moral duty to commit murder.
The doctor is visited by Helga, the wife of a local reverend he already detests, and asked to corroborate her story that she has an incurable uterine disease that makes abstinence a necessity. Glas, instantly infatuated with her, backs up her claim and indeed goes further than she might have initially imagined.
Although a complex and intriguing character, Glas is not a sympathetic one. Indeed, whether it is the distraction of the subtitles, the stark set, or the microphone attached to Henriksson’s head, the play keeps you at a distance. You do not find yourself rooting for the doctor or wishing him well with his endeavours, and this lack of empathy causes problems for the dramatic tension of the piece.
Lonely, misanthropic, but ultimately romantic, Glas believes that life has passed him by, and instead of trying to actively pursue the woman he loves, admires her from a distance. A study of both the dangers of observing life instead of taking part, and the way we use those who love us unrequitedly, Söderberg’s text is fiercely modern and poses questions that have not yet be satisfactorily answered, even a hundred years down the line.
Henriksson’s portrayal conveys the complexities of this intensely lonely man, but his style of acting suggests that perhaps this venture would be even more successful on film rather than on stage.
Doktor Glas is at Wyndham’s Theatre until 11th May 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.