Doktor Glas, Wyndham’s Theatre, London – review

As a rule, an 80-minute solo performance is going to be either “showy” or “tell-y”: either crammed with tricks and tics or taking a more conventional storytelling tack which relies on the material and the performer’s magnetism to keep the audience engaged. Doktor Glas is an example of the latter; this stage adaptation of Hjalmar Söderberg’s 1905 epistolary novel is about the words, and about our oblique insights into the eponymous character as he recounts his tale of his fascination with the wife of an odious priest and his murder of said pastor to save her from a loveless marriage.

There is one teensy problemette with such an approach in this instance: the words in question are in Swedish.

To be sure, there are surtitles and a consummate performance from Krister Henriksson. But it is a low-key performance, almost audaciously so. Henriksson makes minor forays into characterisation of other figures: a guttural, coughing voice for the pastor, a lighter tone for his wife and so on. A few times he grows moderately animated for 30 seconds or so, as the doctor fantasises about administering cyanide to the priest or writhes in anticipation of his arrest. There are even hints at the doctor’s own character: his repeated hand-washing suggests a fastidiousness quite at odds with his conduct here. Linus Fellbom’s lighting works almost as many subtle changes on the spare consulting-room set as there are in Henriksson’s similarly discreet performance.

Yet all in all the question remains: since the piece is essentially a verbal one, what has led this production in (for Britons) such a little-known language to visit the West End, even for a month? The answer lies in television’s recent love affair with Scandinavian drama series such as The Killing and Borgen. Henriksson is being marketed here not as an accomplished stage and screen actor appearing in a Swedish National Theatre production, but as the actor who played the titular detective inspector in the series that began this fashion, Wallander (prior to its English-language remake starring Kenneth Branagh). In this regard, the overall effect of the production is quite fitting: without insight into choices of word or turns of phrase, or the hinterland of ethical arguments in the original novel, one is left with a broad impression of the tale itself, which comes over simply as a kind of bourgeois proto-noir.

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