The Ghost Sonata
Third time around for Bergman and The Ghost Sonata, with Gertrud Fridh in a double role as the Mummy and the Young Lady.
'Splendidly individualistic.'Åke Janzon, Svenska Dagbladet
About the production
Bergman's third production of The Ghost Sonata premiered on 12 January 1973 at The Royal Dramatic Theatre. He had first produced the play in 1941 at Medborgarhuset, his second production taking place during his heyday at the Malmö City Theatre in 1954. In 2000, Bergman would later produce a fourth version at The Royal Dramatic Theatre.
Strindberg is a playwright who has accompanied Bergman throughout his career in the theatre. The Ghost Sonata has held a particular fascination for him. 'One has somehow lived with the text over the years and it has gradually yielded itself. One often stages this play inside out. One starts by staging the first act and it goes well. Then one takes the second act, and that goes well too. Then one takes the third act, and it all goes to pieces.'
On this occasion Bergman began by working on the third act in order to resolve how the first two acts should be interpreted. 'The logic of everyday consciousness has to cease in the third act, since it is governed by another kind of logic which is far more drastic and more terrible. If one doesn't understand that the Student murders the Young Lady, gradually and word by word, then the whole act is a failure.' (Bergman interviewed in Svenska Dagbladet)
This production of The Ghost Sonata was performed on the theatre's main stage. The scenography opened up the stage area to an unusual degree. There was no classic house façade: what one saw was the opening of the stage itself. Writing in Sydsvenska Dagbladet, Jarl W Donnér interpreted this symbolically, as if 'we, the audience, are like the fake colonel and other occupants of the house, pseudo beings with uncomfortable secrets and a past laden with guilt'.
The traditional room interior was shown during the two final acts in projected form. These wall projections were erased during the ghost supper, and replaced by a coarse outer wall with large bricks. This was also shown during the third act, when the Student takes stock of his life. Donnér saw this as an image of 'life as a prison - "this madhouse, this prison, this charnel house, this earth", as the Student puts it'. This device, of turning the stage out towards the audience, was nothing new for Bergman: he had used similar effects both in The Wild Duck and in his 1969 production of Woyzeck.
One of Bergman's starting points was to regard the sequence of events as Strindberg's own dream. The character who can most readily be seen as the alter ego of the dreamer and author is the Student. But since the Student occasionally takes part in the action himself, he cannot be entirely disassociated and made into an observer of what is taking place. Bergman solved this problem by allowing Mathias Henrikson to be made up in a way that suggested Strindberg's face, and by projecting a portrait of the playwright on the curtain between the acts. In this way the audience would be reminded of the dreamer's identity.
One new element of this production was to use the same actress, Gertrud Fridh, to play both the Mummy and the Young Lady. There were also plans in the initial stages to double-up Hummel and the Student. These plans were subsequently abandoned, but the physical similarities between the two characters was highlighted in the finished production with the help of make-up. The similarity between Hummel and the Student, together with that between the Mummy and the Young Lady, was noted by several critics. It helped to establish connections and contexts more clearly, and the third act was perceived as a more integrated part of the whole. The inner logic of the play was thus borne out right to the end.
- The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
- Bernt Olsson och Ingemar Algulin, Litteraturens historia i Sverige, (Stockholm: Norstedts Förlag, 1987).
- Henrik Sjögren, Lek och raseri: Ingmar Bergmans teater 1938-2002, (Stockholm: Carlssons Bokförlag, 2002).
- Egil Törnqvist, Bergman och Strindberg: Spöksonaten - drama och iscensättning Dramaten 1973, (Stockholm: Bokförlaget Prisma, 1973).
- Henrik Sjögren, Lek och raseri, Ingmar Bergmans teater 1938-2002, (Stockholm: Carlsson Bokfölag, 2002).
- Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).
Writing in Dagens Nyheter, Leif Zern commented on Bergman's production and reading of the play as follows:
The third act no longer appears as a romantic appendix to the first two acts: on the contrary, what takes place in the hyacinth room has been well grounded in the ghost supper, where the horrors of bourgeois family life are depicted and unmasked by a Strindberg more incensed than ever. Bourgeois society reproduces itself according to a law of eternal repetition. Here, the play's principal and subsidiary themes fit together like Chinese boxes.'
Not everyone was convinced by the device of Gertrud Fridh playing both the Young Lady and the Mummy. Åke Janzon in Svenska Dagbladet, for example, did not feel that it added anything to the play. Yet later in his review, he wrote, 'On the other hand, one must welcome Ingmar Bergman's attempt to integrate the third and final act into the play in its entirety. [...] In the third act, according to Bergman, we are conducted into the deepest of dreams, an infantile world in which all conventional proportions have ceased to function.'
In the scenes where the Mummy and the Young Lady are present on stage at the same time, Bergman allowed the dancer, Karin Thulin, to double silently for Gertrud Fridh. Another dancer, Kari Sylwan, played the silent role of the Milkmaid.
Many were agreed that this was a strong and individualistic production by Bergman. 'There is no doubt that The Ghost Sonata is one of the great Strindberg evenings at The Royal Dramatic Theatre', wrote Tord Baeckström in Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning. Leif Zern in Dagens Nyheter was of the opinion that Bergman's individualistic production of The Ghost Sonata as ruthless and provocative was 'one of the major theatrical experiences'.
Italy, Florence, Pergola Theatre, 7-8 April 1973
This was the second Bergman production to visit Florence in two years. Italian reviews spoke of the 'bravura', 'coherence', and 'poetic lightness' of Bergman's staging.
The Ghost Sonata, drama by August Strindberg, one of his so-called chamber plays, completed in 1907. The backdrop to the action is a drama of love and infidelity in which the businessman Hummel loses his fiancée to the Colonel when he is 20 years old. The play centres on two crucial days towards the end of the life of Hummel, now in his 80s. The first and second acts take place on the day when Hummel meets death in the Colonel's drawing room. The third act, about the death of his daughter, takes place some days later. During the play's most famous scene, the 'ghost supper', people appear as they really are, without lies or pretences, and expose each other both to the living and the dead. The young Student, a clairvoyant and the mouthpiece for the events, expresses ideas strongly influenced by Swedenborg. The play's form, and its absurd, grotesque style was hugely influential on modern drama. The title derives from Beethoven's Piano Sonata in D minor.
According to Henrik Sjögren in Lek och raseri, Ingmar Bergman's four productions of The Ghost Sonata (1941, 1954, 1973 and 2000) illustrate more profoundly and clearly than anything else his development as a director and interpreter of Strindberg.
Ingmar Bergman first came into contact with the play at the age of 12, when he bought a copy of it from a second-hand bookshop ('the name greatly appealed to me') in order to perform it in his puppet theatre. It proved too difficult for a puppet theatre production, yet certain details of the play lodged themselves in his mind.
You can read more about Bergman's relationship with the play in the articles about the respective productions.
- Toivo Pawlo, Old man
- Mathias Henrikson, The bachelor
- Kari Sylwan, Milk maid
- Marianne Karlbeck, Porter
- Harriet Andersson, The dark lady
- Anders Ek, The colonel
- Gertrud Fridh, The mummy
- Frank Sundström
- Axel Düberg, Johansson
- Oscar Ljung, Bengtsson
- Dora Söderberg, Fiancée
- Hjördis Petterson, Cook
- Gösta Prüzelius, Consul
- Klas Möller, Lighting
- Beata Bergström, Stills photographer
- August Strindberg, Author
- Arne Hertler, Stage manager
- Daniel Bell, Music
- Arne Lundh, Make-up and wigs
- Marianne Lundh, Make-up and wigs
- Walter Techt, Make-up and wigs
- Agneta Pauli, Production manager
- Lennart Halling, Projections
- Ingmar Bergman, Director
- Gunnel Lindblom, Assistant director
- Jörgen Wallgren, Assistant director
- Erik Nielsen, Master carpenter
- Åke Andersson, Master carpenter
- Marik Vos, Designer
- Ullacarin Rydén, Prompter
- Bernt Thorell, Technical manager