Theatre, 2000

The Ghost Sonata

For his final Strindberg staging, Bergman returns to The Ghost Sonata for the fourth time and the result is 'more a farewell tale than an unmasking'.
'It seems that Bergman has finally done Strindberg complete justice and reached his own goal.'
Henrik Sjögren

About the production

Bergman's fourth production of Strindberg's play. Bergman presented Old Man Hummel as the mastermind in a web of crimes and lies. His hands covered in bloody rags, perhaps a reference to the murder he once committed and possibly also to Strindberg himself, who suffered from psoriasis while writing the play.

There were other biographical allusions in the production: an image of the house at Karlavägen 10, were Strindberg once lived (at the time it was also Bergman's Stockholm address) was projected on the black cloth that framed the stage, and the sparse décor included a statue whose features were somewhat reminiscent of the actress Harriet Andersson.

The production was staged without intermission on The Royal Dramatic Theatre's small Målarsalen. In the programme Bergman referred to The Ghost Sonata as 'a piece of fantasy', a term Strindberg had used in a letter to theatre director Victor Categren in 1908. Musically, the play has usually been associated with Beethoven's 'Gespenstersonal' but Bergman used Bela Bartok as musical accompaniment, though his fourth reading of Strindberg's play had the dark mood of Beethoven's piece.

Almost all of the reviews were struck by the mercilessness and morbidity of Bergman's fourth The Ghost Sonata, referring to it as a depressing existentialist Strindberg compendium; a Judgment Day drama. 'It is a heavy, black and anxiety-ridden world that Ingmar Bergman depicts. A synopsis of a whole Swedish tradition but painted in a dark vision of sulphur and vitriolic'.

Swedish reviewers have tended to keep Bergman's theatre productions separate from his filmmaking. But a review of The Ghost Sonata said, '[The performance] begins altogether magically; as in a slowly rewound film, the actors step out from the wings. All enter with their backs to the audience, as if they had just exited and the director in the editing room had said "Stop! Rewind!"' Foreign critics who attended the Stockholm opening talked about it as a historical murmur. 'It is like a link back to Strindberg himself'.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).
  • Ben Brantley, New York Times, 22 June 2001.
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).

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