Trolls, trills and Nordic thrills

Andrew Lindqvist (left) and Lesley Braithwaite in "Virus - A Fugue". Photo: Marion Wheeler.

Arts editor Rita Bratovich visited an historical theatre in Sydney’s CBD to enjoy an unusual double bill, pairing Norwegian gothic with fugal puppetry.

Endangered Productions is a not-for-profit theatre company made up of industry veterans who just can’t keep their fingers out of the grease paint jar. Led by artistic director, Christine Logan, the creative team includes ex-professional producers, choreographers, musicians, and actors. Their most recent production, Nordic Noir, exemplifies their mission, which is, to bring infrequently performed classics and unknown works to the stage, preserving their integrity while making them relevant and accessible to a modern audience. 

Nordic Noir comprises a dramatised selection of songs from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite which is based on fellow Norwegian, Henrik Ibsen’s play of the same name. The story of Peer Gynt is itself rooted in Norwegian folklore and is something of a morality tale/social commentary/satire. 

Michael Handy and Lisa Stewart in Peer Gynt. Photo: Marion Wheeler.

The music for this production was provided by six students from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, conducted by the esteemed Peter Alexander. Popular pieces from the suite were either sung or choreographed (or both), and included ‘Morning’, ‘In the Hall of The Mountain King’, ‘Solveig’s Song’ and ‘Arabian Dance’. The costumes strongly evoked Nordic mythology and fairy tales, with dancers in particular making use of long flowing trails of fabric. 

The second part of the double bill was a new play written by popular Norwegian playwright, Fredrik Brattberg and translated by Dr May-Brit Akerholt. Virus – A Fugue is shrewd depiction of the Covid zeitgeist, using the traditional musical form of fugue as a device, and performed by a cast of real life actors and various puppets. As a literal introduction to the piece, a Bach fugue is played by the orchestra, accompanied by graphic visualisation projected onto a screen. 

Lesley Braithwaite with troll in Peer Gynt. Photo: Marion Wheeler.

Two live actors then appear on stage, dressed in the kind of bright and bold clothes more commonly associated with children’s TV presenters. They perform a short routine which is then repeated, with some variation, by shadow puppets who resemble the original characters. This happens twice again with two more sets of puppets – both very different types but effectively the same characters. 

It is very witty, very dry, while at the same time making sharp, poignant comments about the fugal style nature of dis-information and panic. 

Both pieces showed acute imagination and resourcefulness as well as an eye-winking sense of humour. 

The Nordic Noir season has ended (it comprised five shows at the Australian Hall in Elizabeth Street in March) and we look forward to seeing more from Endangered Productions. 

For more on Endangered Productions, visit endangeredproductions.org.au.