Benny Andersson attends Royal premiere of ‘Utvandrarna’ at Swedish National Theatre

Renowned director and choreographer Mats Ek, has collaborated with playwright and dramatist Irena Kraus, to create a brand new dramatisation of Wilhelm Moberg’s Utvandrarna (The Emigrants) and last Sunday, Benny Andersson sat alongside King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia for the show’s gala premiere at Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre (Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern or Dramaten).

Moberg’s critically acclaimed novel is one of Swedish literature’s true classics. The books are regarded as a cornerstone in the historiography of the great Swedish emigration in the 1800s and are even credited to have spawned the Swedish tourist industry.

There have been several previous adaptations of Moberg’s epic, including Jan Troell’s film version and perhaps most notably the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Lars Rudolfsson musical, Kristina från Duvemåla, but now the novel has another dimension.

Rolf Lassgård & Stina Ekblad
Rolf Lassgård & Stina Ekblad

While Ek and Kraus have retained all the most popular highlights from previous interpretations, with many scenes being instantly recognisable from ‘Kristina’, their staging is quite original.

Lead roles are portrayed by actors several decades older than Moberg’s characters. Kristina, who according to the novel is just seventeen at the start of the story, is played by Stina Ekblad, 60 and her beau Karl-Oskar by 59 year old Rolf Lassgård. Even the children are played by adults.

The drama is told through both classic theatre combined with dance and movement – and a lot of music, supplied courtesy of Benny Andersson.

However, there are no songs from Kristina and Benny has written nothing new for the production. Instead a selection of his existing compositions, including tracks from his work with Orsa Spelmän, BAO and Palme, have been compiled to form the show’s folk-orientated score.

On stage, set designer and acclaimed photographer Aida Chehrehgosha, has created a simple backdrop consisting of two large LED screens, upon which images of the rocky fields, red wooden barns, stellar skies, rolling seas and slowly passing cows are displayed. Her intention: “To create a space for Mats Ek’s choreographic style, which also encourages the audience’s imagination.”

Utvandrarna was well received by Sunday’s theatre-goers. Led by Benny and the Royal couple, the audience gave the cast a long and rapturous standing ovation.

While critics are more divided, they are unanimous in their opinion that Rolf Lassgård’s debut on the national stage is an indisputable triumph.

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