Nordic Noir: Phantasy & Fugue | Endangered Productions

Endangered Productions is a new Sydney-based music theatre company dedicated to bringing together artists of all experiences and abilities to perform overlooked theatre pieces. After a sell-out run in 2020, their program from the far north Nordic Noir returns with its Norwegian stories both old and new.

The production was divided into two parts which both present takes on Norwegian works stretching from the 19th century to today. Beginning with the Nordic classic Peer Gynt, a youthful group of musicians (Stephanie Holmes, Andrew Wang, Monty Guo, Marlena Stanhope, Isaac Davis, Ruth McKay) played Edvard Grieg’s compositions as Marty O’Neill narrated the fantastical dance performances.

The fairy tale aspect of Henrik Ibsen’s play was quickly evoked with a forest-sprite creature (Isaac Clark) twisting and turning to Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. Other selections from the play’s incidental music took the audience into the deserts of the Middle East with “Arabian Dance” performed by Lesley Braithwaite, Natalie Cassaniti, and Lisa Stewart, then into the Australian landscape with a dance piece performed by Rayma Johnson to celebrate the sunrise in “Morning Music”, before again returning to the mountains amongst the herder women and their trolls (made by Gemma Cross). Peer Gynt himself (Michael Handy) made an appearance to lament his time at sea before this glimpse into his story came to a close.

While the dip into Ibsen’s most well-known work felt brief, the production was bold for its elaborate costuming by Karen Lambert and expressive choreography by Ruth Brent. Rather than an immersive narrative experience, this selection of music and dance felt like a bracing gust of cold Norwegian air.

For the second half of Nordic Noir, director Christine Logan drew a connection between the work of Ibsen and a contemporary Norwegian artist Fredrik Brattberg. With translator May-Brit Akerholt, Peer Gynt and Brattberg’s Virus — A Fugue were brought together as provocative theatre and music from across time. Originally a composer, Brattberg was inspired by the repetitive structure of the musical fugue to write a parable for the COVID-19 world.

Music Director Peter Alexander opened the second half with a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Little Fugue” as an introduction to the form. The play then began with incidental music again provided by the string quartet. ‘She’ (Braithwaite) is coming down with something and wants ‘he’ (Andrew Lindqvist) to help her track down the contagious culprit. Quickly their suspicions are amplified by a sickness spreading through both the people in their model village and the people in their model model village. In order to stop the spread, the couple treat the people in the model villages terribly and, yet, they’re none the wiser about this spreading sickness.

This many-layered tragi-comedy played around with tropes of the fugue structure as well as dramatic techniques like irony and three different types of puppets to present a simple message about fear in a very fitting pandemic environment. The design of this production was inventive from the shadow puppets (made by Sandy Gray) to the hand puppets (made by Katie Williams) and then the large-scale puppets (made by Emmie Collins) which all added unexpected humour and absurdity to Brattberg’s surreal world.

While the production had an enthusiastic ramshackle quality to the performances, Nordic Noir demonstrated Endangered Productions’s dedication to a wide variety of crafts and forms which was intriguing and heartwarming. Presented together, the two Norwegian works take on vastly different contexts and narrative concerns but they shared a similar lightness or magical tone that made for an other-worldly experience.

Nordic Noir ran at Australian House from March 25th – 28th

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