Besök av en gammal dam


Marie Göranzon i Besök av en gammal dam, Stora scenen. Kulturhuset Stadsteatern Foto: Bengt Wanselius


Friedrich Dürrenmatt is one of the most known Swiss writers of the 20th century.

Besuch der alten Dame is a classic drama read by most school kids. As I am Swiss, I know the plot by heart, what made it easy for me to follow the Swedish

Besök av en gammal dam performance in Stockholms stadsteater, directed by Katrine Wiedemann. Many characters are cut out and the ensemble contains of 11 actors

What strikes the eye immediately is that a part of the audience is seated on the stage, which in turn means the actors have to perform on two sides. This could be done more clearly and satisfyingly. Then most of the actors still play a lot to the “main” audience sitting in the parquet. We could interpret the decision of putting part of the audience on stage as metaphor for them being guilty for the on-going happening as well.


The plot is pretty easy to summarize: The old lady, Claire Zachanassian, visits the village called “Gullen” after several years of absence. She left as young women after Alfred Ill, her former boyfriend, dropped her because she was pregnant. Later she lost the baby. Years pass until she returns to the village with a lot of money. This is where the actual performance starts. As revenge she promises to pay the broken village 1 Million (in the Swiss equivalent it’s 1 Milliard), if the villagers kill Alfred Ill. The story turns out to have a moral education about the age-old established fact that money destroys people. In the end it happens. The whole village kills Alfred, not even his family is protecting him anymore.


The audience is an accomplice in Alfred’s lynching, as they just sit and watch how complots are made while Ill is trying to escape. And at the same time, when they watch how the complot goes on, they watch the opposite sitting audience and make this way a complot of silence and saying nothing. Last but not least, there is no exit for Alfred, but to sacrifice himself for the village’s sake.


Space plays an important role in this performance too, not only regarding the audience on the stage but also the size of the space. A white rectangular floor defines the scope, where most of the story happens. Sometimes the actors are seated on stairs besides this floor. There is no fixed scenography. Different light arrangements and portable props change the location.


A key scene, where the old lady and Alfred meet in the forest and talk about the past, is for example designed with two, by Maja Ravn constructed, birch trees, which can be rolled in by stage workers. Additional lightning lets the stage floor look like the sunlight would break through tree leaves; there are these typical light spots on the floor. The birch trees make it obvious, that here the story takes place in Scandinavia. Even scenography and lightning are interesting and innovative; the performance gets lost on the big stage.


The story takes place in a small, intimate village but we don’t feel or see that enough, as the space is too big. Maybe this is affected also due to the more epic style of acting. The actors are keeping their characters in distance and aren’t identifying themselves with them. Also, the relationships between the characters aren’t worked out deeply and the story development stays shallow. Also, the appearance of the stage workers, who walk over the stage, bring in props etc., breaks a possible intimate setting. But at least some part of this stylisation and abstraction is done well, when it comes to choreography: It allows the appearance of pleasant images on the white stage floor.


Last but not least I want to mention the end of the performance. This is when it comes to the voting in the village: Who agrees in killing Alfred? During this procedure a journalist is present and documenting the happening. This character stays in mind the most, as actor Tim Dillman, created it in a pretty realistic way. We see a journalist, who doesn’t care about Alfred’s death but sees it only as sensational topic for the media. The audience exiting the theatre keeps on thinking about media’s role nowadays.

Saima Sägesser





För senaste nytt inom Stockholms teatervärld.