When Hjalmar Söderberg’s
classic novel was published in 1905, it caused a scandal
because it seemed to condone abortion and euthanasia and
discussed the morality of murder. Written in the form of a
journal, the novel is a psychological study of a complex man,
the protagonist Doktor Tyko Gabriel Glas: A fin-de-siècle
aesthete, who chose a profession that didn’t suit him in the
least because it would necessarily confront him with
ugliness, falls in love with a young woman who is married to
a ghoulish and morally corrupted clergyman - Pastor
Gregorius. Revolted by his sexual advances, Helga has fled
into the arms of the handsome Klas Recke. Although Dr. Glas
knows that Helga will never love him, he decides to help
Krister Henriksson, a national treasure in Sweden and known in this country for his portrayal of Kurt Wallander in the original Swedish TV series, decided to bring this book on stage, using Allan Edwall’s brilliant adaptation - his production became a great hit in his native Sweden. Cut down to 90 minutes from the original 5 ½ hours, Doktor Glas now plays in the West End – a bold choice because we get to see a Swedish production with English surtitles.
As the curtain rises, Dr. Glas recalls the first visit of Helga Gregorius, a young woman who started an adulterous affair because her husband is such an appalling creature. The physician immediately falls in love with the unreachable girl, perhaps because he knows that he will never have a chance. Helga begs him to invent some disease for her that will keep her husband away. All her pleas to restrain himself have so far been ignored or answered with sermons about the duty to reproduce. The resourceful Dr. Glas not only comes up with a disease for Helga but also discovers that Pastor Gregorius suffers from a heart condition and needs rehabilitation in a spa. Helga is experiencing the happiest time of her adult life once Gregorius is safely shipped away. But when her husband returns, he is as loathsome as ever and immediately rapes Helga. Dr. Glas now has to come up with a different solution and seriously considers using one of the cyanide pills he has kept for his own needs - in case his ongoing depression got out of hand - on the clergyman. A rather fail safe method and hard to detect: "“How suspicious is it to have a stroke after reading the news?” But Dr. Glas has sworn an oath to protect lives, not take them.
Peder Bjurman, who co-directed the play together with Henriksson, created a claustrophic set - an early 20th century surgery where the whole action takes place. Krister Henriksson plays Dr. Glas in this one-hander. For some strange reason, he was using a microphone which coveed half of his face but this did not really take away from his excellent performance as the tormented doctor who sees himself as a failure because he has not achieved greatness and knows he never will. Allan Edwall's adaptation of Söderberg’s novel is poetic, philosphical and at times hilariously funny. Henriksson's portrayal of the "toadstool" Gregorius borders on the grotesque and he delivers Edwall's best lines with subtle irony: "She said you have such a pleasant way of keeping quiet." I know a bit of Swedish and the surtitles represented the Swedish text fairly well. It was somewhat strenuous to switch between the surtitles and the performance but it could be done. The constant ringing of a mobile phone didn't help, but at least Krister Henriksson managed to ignore it. He received a standing ovation for his wonderful performance and thanked his audience with red roses. Grattis!
This production should not be missed.
By Carolin Kopplin
Until 11th May 2013 at Wyndham's Theatre.
Further information: http://www.drglas.com/