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HELLUVAGUY!!! (article first published : 2001-04-5)

There is seldom any point in reviewing a play which has only one performance and then disappears, but occasionally one comes along which deserves attention. Helluvaguy!!!, a short, 45-minute production by the Klara Soup Theatre of Stockholm which was brought to South Africa for a short tour by the Swedish Embassy, is one of these.

On a wet Tuesday evening in the Hilton Theatre a smallish audience were entranced by Lennart R. Svensson's one-man (and two musicians) exploration of the life and loves of Swedish playwright, poet and novelist August Strindberg who died in 1912. He was a writer of the end of the 19th Century, a controversial, difficult figure who shocked the society of his time by marrying three times.

Svensson, with just a stool, an overcoat and a microphone, creates a picture of Strindberg. The songs, based on words written by Strindberg and with music by Gunnar Edander who plays his keyboard onstage and also sings, are used to describe the writer's life, from the sight of a butcher's window to the sound of a seashell against a child's ear. We hear of Strindberg's difficult childhood and his three stormy marriages - and Strindberg's dismissive view of the women he married. It is both a funny and poignant exploration of the man, showing his faults and his humanity.

Strindberg may have been a figure of fin-de-siecle Nordic gloom, but the entrancing aspect of this portrait of him lies in its almost 1960s feel of idealism and enthusiasm. There are echoes of Leonard Cohen in the music and there is a freshness about the production despite more than eight years of performance both on tour and in Sweden.

This feeling that theatre is a part of everyday life and to be relished and talked over is enhanced by the willingness of the performers to mix with the audience afterwards over wine and snacks. In Sweden, they perform at lunchtime and the production is followed by a bowl of soup (hence the name of the company). I talked to Svensson about his tours with the play, around the Baltic states, to America, Greece, Bosnia and Africa and heard how audiences reacted. Apparently, where Strindberg is well-known, audiences find the performance funnier; where he is little more than a name, the sadness of his life makes a bigger impact. But whether they make you laugh or cry, if Sweden's Klara Soup Theatre come this way again, make a point of seeking them out. - Margaret von Klemperer




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