Theatre, 1958

Ur-Faust

Max von Sydow and Toivo Pawlo play twin-like Faust and Mephisto in Bergman's second to last Malmö production, which travelled to London.

'This is grandiose theatre - but difficult to explain.'
Henrik Sjögren

About the production

Ur-Faust had been broadcast on Swedish Radio two years earlier in a new translation, which made it more accessible to a modern Swedish audience. Ingmar Bergman himself was quoted as saying, 'The work was rhythmic, clear, cohesive, complete as theatre... all that which the later Faust is not.'

Bergman chose to stage the original version of Goethe's Faust, written when Goethe was 23-24 years old and first read in a literary salon in Weimar, in 1775, only to be lost and rediscovered more than 100 years later.

In an interview, declaring the theme of Ur-Faust to be emptiness, 'First comes the discovery of emptiness. Then, the filling of emptiness, and finally, the punishment.'

The set design was kept sparse: three Gothic vaults dominated the stage; the middle one flanked by two sculptures, a Madonna and a gargoyle of the kind that adorn the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

Critics were not surprised that Bergman produced Goethe's Faust, a work based on the same juxtaposition of good and evil as his own stage plays and films. 'Bergman too is torn, like young Goethe, between darkness and light; he is thrown between the abysses of heaven and earth; he oscillates between smothering paganism and heavenly glow. And his duality goes right through his being.'

There was much anticipation prior to the opening night of Bergman's Faust, but many reviewers were disappointed. 'The premier of Goethe's Ur-Faust on Malmö's main stage, a production regarded for months as the theatre event of the year, almost resulted in our tense expectations dissolving into nothing. Ingmar Bergman was to be crowned, definitely, as our new and innovative director of the classics. But none of this happened.'

It seems that the more the reviewers noticed 'cinematic' features in the production, such as projected imagery and rhythmic cuts, the more critical they became.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).
  • Henrik Sjögren, Lek och raseri: Ingmar Bergmans teater 1938-2002 (Carlssons Bokförlag 2002).

Collaborators