In years to come, maybe some enterprising PhD student will do a thesis on how the British love of Scandinavian murder stories coincided with the run of abysmal summers that have clearly made our sun-deprived imaginations slightly bleaker. This adaptation of Hjalmar Söderberg’s classic 1905 novel, ‘Doktor Glas’, is the latest manifestation of our obsession with Scandi crime, a darkly funny confessional monologue from a doctor played by Krister Henriksson, the star of the original ‘Wallander’.
Right from the start, Henriksson demonstrates his stage pedigree (Ingmar Bergman directed him in ‘A Winter’s Tale’, and he is a veteran of Shakespeare and Strindberg productions). There’s little sense that we are watching a performance, more that we are eavesdropping on the perverse philosophical musings of a man who has opinions on everything from sideburns to Schopenhauer.
Director Peder Bjurman feeds the audience’s appetite for noir by placing the amorous doctor on a stark set that we glimpse first through a veil. Although his narrative takes us to a range of locations, we never see him outside his surgery, which is transformed through Linus Fellbom’s vivid, minimalist lighting so that shadows loom large one moment, and the walls turn blood red the next.
Against this backdrop, Henriksson’s Doktor Glas becomes more involved than he would like when the beautiful wife of a loathsome clergyman comes to him and says she is sexually repelled by her husband. Part of the joy of this surtitled production is the grotesque evocation of the Reverend Gregorius – ‘a toadstool in a pulpit’ – whose demise is foreshadowed by the doctor’s growing sexual obsession with his unobtainable wife.
That sense of stifled sexuality is essential to the mood of a play that takes us to the dark heart of bourgeois Sweden. It says much for Henriksson’s grimly humorous performance that it is both a gripping and enjoyable journey. Rachel Halliburton