Theatre, 1973

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.

Sources

  • 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).

Collaborators