About the Dogs of Prague
MD — the volumes Marguerite Duras, 2007
About the Dogs of Prague
“Marguerite was the queen of the gang. Brutal as a goat, innocent as a flower, soft as a cat.” The poet / essayist Claude Roy on the resistance group St Benoît
In my mind The Dogs of Prague is all about alienation - about our age-old instinct to slay what’s different, the foreign. In 1985, I produced Duras’s Hiroshima, mon amour at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, followed in 1995 by Savannah Bay at the Jewish Theatre. These productions highlighted the erotic, poetic and musical dimensions. This time, I want to approach the political side of Duras. The author, the artist, the film-maker. Duras, who discerned the political in every aspect of life, in all everyday objects and events. But, above all, the political activist; the woman who took an active part in the resistance during the Nazi occupation, who joined the French Communist Party in 1944, but was excluded five years later for criticising the party for its Stalinist tendencies, who took a stand for the Algerian war of independence, who interviewed the socially excluded and gave them a voice, who so strongly identified herself with “the other”.
In Abahn, Sabana, David, which is called The Dogs of Prague in my adaptation for the stage, we meet Duras the political author. The novel was engendered by Duras’s distress at the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968, her disappointment with the development of communism, and her lifelong solidarity with the Jewish people.
The production of The Dogs of Prague will be in a cinematic style: with projections, sound and music. A thriller, since a murder will be committed. With a mobile theatrical space that will keep the audience in perpetual motion.
Pia Forsgren Director of the play The Dogs of Prague Artistic director and manager of the Jewish Theatre
Niklas Ek participated in the dance production LOL by Ohad Naharin at the Jewish Theatre in 2000. He has previously worked with Pia Forsgren, playing the title role in her production of Kaspar by Peter Handke, at Kilen, Kulturhuset in 1991. In his dancing career, Niklas Ek has been engaged by the Royal Opera in Stockholm, by the Maurice Béjarts Ballet of the XXth Century, the Cullberg Ballet, Nederlands Dansteater and the Opera Ballet in Lyon. He has danced in works by coreographers Birgit Cullberg, John Cranko, Michail Fokine, Mats Ek, John Neumeier, Jirí Kylián, Glen Tetley, Maurice Béjart, José Limón, Frederick Ashton and Kenneth Mac Millan, and many others. He has been acclaimed for his interpretations of roles in works including Birgit Cullberg’s productions of Eurydike är död 1969, Rött vin i gröna glas 1971, Rapport 1976 and Miss Julie 1980 and Mats Ek’s Smoke 1995 and Tulips 2003. Niklas Ek the actor featured in the film Juloratoriet, 1996, directed by Linus Tunström, and in Dans med nästan 1993, På Malta 1996, and Don Juan 2003, all three directed and choreographed by Mats Ek. He has also participated in other films, including Suzanne Osten’s Bröderna Mozart 1986 and in productions for TV and radio. Alongside The Dogs of Prague he was recently involved in the performance of La Veillée des Abysses by James Thierré which was performed most recently in September in Barcelona.
Agneta Ekmanner worked with Pia Forsgren in 1997 at the Jewish Theatre in a production of Savannah Bay, also by Marguerite Duras. Agneta Ekmanner has participated in several productions by Katarina Frostenson at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, directed by Pia Forsgren: Nilen, 1989, Traum, 1993, and Sal P, 1996. She was also in Pia Forsgren’s production of Tupilak by PO Enquist in 1993. Agneta Ekmanner was recruited by the Stockholm Stadsteater in 1968, directly after graduating from drama school in Malmö, and has starred in roles such as Masja in Chechov’s Three Sisters, directed by Otomar Krejca, the title role in Lorca’s Miss Rosita and Celimène in Molière’s The Misanthrope, both directed by Jonas Cornell. She has featured in several productions by Suzanne Osten, both on stage, for instance in Underjordens leende and En fruktansvärd lycka by Lars Norén, and on film, as in Bröderna Mozart and Livsfarlig film. In 1990, she directed Elvire Jouvet by Brigitte Jacques for Stockholm Stadsteater. She has also participated in countless other film, TV and radio productions. Agneta Ekmanner has been with the Royal Dramatic Theatre since 1989. Her first part was Baroness Saint-Fond in Ingmar Bergman’s production of The Marquis de Sade. Most recently, Agneta Ekmanner was in Borkmann by Henrik Ibsen, directed by Hilda Hellwig, in 2006, and last spring she played the part of Amanda in Tennesse Williams’ The Glass.
Gorki Glaser-Müller trained at the Malmö Theatre Academy and at the School of Photography at Göteborg University, where he studied film directing. His films include Högt Standart 2000, Dom fyra sista siffrorna 2003, Tjejen med Videokameran 2005, and Vattenmelonen 2006. He was awarded three prizes at the international student film festival in Santiago, Chile, for his short film Ägget 2003: for best film and best script, and the child actor Ivar Svensson got the best actor award. As an actor, Gorki Glaser-Müller has participated in several productions including Measure for Measure, 1995, Teater Roma, Svartsjukans Natt, 2000, Svensk Symbolistisk Teater, Bingo, 2000, Teater Terrier, Den Tröttaste Människan på Planeten, 2001, Teater Blå, and in several TV and film productions including Den Femte Kvinnan, Skeppsholmen and Lasermannen. Gorki Glaser-Müller is currently working on a script for a feature film, and his music video for Advance Patrol has recently been released. For more information, please visit.
Björn Granath was most recently engaged at the Jewish Theatre in 2002, when he played the father in Katarina Frostenson’s Kristallvägen, directed by Pia Forsgren. Since 1987 he has been with the Royal Dramatic Theater, where he has participated in numerous productions, including Drottningens juvelsmycke, directed by Peter Oskarson, Mäster Olof, directed by Lennart Hjulström, Gombrowicz’ Wedding, directed by Karl Dunér, Strindberg’s A Dream Play, directed by Robert Lepage, and several productions by Ingmar Bergman, including Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Peer Gynt, Botho Strauss’ Time and the Room and Bergman’s own Sista skriket. On film and TV his noteworthy productions include Madicken på Junibacken, Pelle Erövraren, Så vit som en snö, Den goda viljan and Löven i Vallombrosa. Björn Granath has been working with the dramatist and Nobel Prize laureate Dario Fo’s plays since 1978, and has produced several of them, including Mistero Buffo and Johan Padan discovers America. Mistero Buffo is currently being played by Özz Nujen in a production directed by Björn Granath, who is also currently in Strindberg’s Dance of Death at the Royal Dramatic Theatre.
stage design / projection / film, photo / light design: Tomas Franck and Kenneth Björk costume: Mikael T Zielinski sound design / composition: Heikki Kiviaho choreography: Susanne Jaresand text interpretation: Cecilia Berefelt make up: Horst Stadlinger
MD, the volumes, Marguerite Duras, 2007
Brutal as a goat, innocent as a flower, soft like a cat
… wrote the Resistance fighter and author Claude Roy about his young comrade at arms Marguerite in the wartime 1940’s. All the three indispensable qualities for a soldier, but maybe also for this writer at her fiery pen. When you see the 216 portraits (yes: two hundred and sixteen) in the magnificient double volume ”MD” published by the Jewish Theatre in 2007 for the exhibition of her work, and the world première of her play, The Dogs in Prague, you can see that Roy does not exaggerate.
The last pages of the volume display them all as a map of a life, MD was born in 1914 and her work spreads from combat prose to lyrical dramas from 1943 to 1988, in all 47 literary works, 19 films and 6 theatre plays, by my count. Not only did she succeed to wander through the most varied themes and scenes, from colonial Indo-China, the enchanted garden of her childhood, to the rough backyards of post-war France, she also knew how to swing from the burning passions of L’amant to the bitter human and political deceptions of the Prague piece.
”Through all her work echoes the tragedies she has witnessed: Indo-China under the Colonialism, the crimes of the Second World war – Auschwitz, the bloody lies of Communism, the plundering of the Third World, the misery of oppressed classes and immigrant workers”, writes Claire Cerasi.
This indispensable photo book, concieved by the Theatre’s Director Pia Forsgren and brilliantly designed by Anders Wester, is backed up by an anthological sister-volume, assembling 39 essays by herself and central commentators of her work like Edgar Morin, Laure Adler, Katarina Frostenson and Michel Foucault. Considering this photographic and literary mapping of all aspects of the writer’s expressions, you are tempted to quote Duras’ beloved compatriot, poet Paul Verlaine: Madame, votre âme est un paysage exquise.
A chilling study of oppression
15 October, 2007
The Jewish Theatre has turned a novel by Marguerite Duras into theatre. When the set design and acting blend into a whole, it is evocative, painful in parts and achingly beautiful in Jenny Aschenbrenner’s view.
Pressed back into their reclining seats by the force of gravity, the audience watch the opening scene of The Dogs of Prague enacted in a vast mirror raised at an angle above the auditorium. The Jewish Theatre’s dramatisation of Marguerite Duras’ novel Abahn Sabana David starts off as magnificent strip of theatre that demands the audience’s concentrated attention and alertness; beautiful, exciting and dispassionate.
Gradually the barriers come down, we are raised to the same level as the stage and the wall that has separated us from the actors vanishes. And yet that first impression lingers on – of something evocative that is always at a certain distance.
Abahn Sabana David is one of Marguerite Duras’ most political novels. Instead of desire and submission under the aegis of love and the erotic, it deals with the psychological mechanisms that underpin persecution and oppression. David and Sabana have been sent to keep watch on the Jew Abahn - until dawn when their leader Gringo is going to execute him.
A second Abahn enters the room. He is the mirror image of the Jew, he is the Jew who talks, who finds it easy to analyse and to banter. Sabana is the woman without a past who is driven by her feelings into the arms of the oppressor one moment, and the next inot those of the victim. David sleeps for the most part, waking occasionally in a state of despairing rage. The Jew is awaiting his fate, he has had the temerity to write instead of work under this Stalinist form of communism.
In this closed room during the hours of darkness the four of them stage a sort of ritual that reveals the dynamic which occurs between the victim and perpetrator. The roles switch back and forth. A rite that turns into reality with the break of day. Projected images succeed one another against the black and white background; pictures of barbed wire, train lines, walls – the Holocaust is always present.
It can be painful in parts and achingly beautiful when the set design and acting merge together to create a focus of feeling that spreads through the auditorium to touch the audience.
However, there is a problem in this dramatisation and that lies in its dramatic qualities. Marguerite Duras’ use of magnificent language in intricate patterns of repetition and reprise demands a vacuum to echo in if it is to be meaningful. The words need a ground of objectivity, like black letters on white paper or the down-to-earth manner with which Agneta Ekmanner plays Sabana; her words hit home when they seem to be born on her tongue. The very theatricality of this play proves to be its enemy, instead of embodying abstract words, it becomes even more abstract.
It is not in the moments of heightened drama that The Dogs in Prague captures my attention but in the formality and concentration of certain scenes when the words make their mark by taking on a ritual quality. In those moments, the play becomes a study of oppression polished to a chilling shine.
By Jenny Aschenbrenner
This Is Like Nothing Else
15 October, 2007
We are led into the theatre in darkness. The last time this happened to me was when Malmö Stadsteater performed Arrabal’s And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers, about torture in Spanish prisons. Then the effect was comical, as the ushers kept apologising for treating us so brusquely. But here everything is calm, matter of fact and just a bit frightening. Where are we going and why is everything shaking?
Hundarna i Prag (The Dogs in Prague) is playing at the Jewish Theatre in Stockholm. The piece is based on a book by Marguerite Duras entitled Abahn Sabana David: the three individuals who are portrayed on stage in Katarina Frostenson’s translation which has been turned into a version for the theatre by Pia Forsgren. At first they appear hazily in the distance and then suddenly they start to approach us. The high-tech stage design and sound effects and music create a powerful sense of uncertainty.
The production is based on a novel and a complicated one at that. The Dogs in Prague is like nothing else I have ever seen in the theatre, not in its entirety in any case. Perhaps Jon Fosse’s Someone Will Come as staged by the Swedish National Touring Theatre comes closest. The language is sparse and poetic and full of repetitions. The audience remains suspended in uncertainty, as do the characters on stage. They seem to be telling themselves their stories - telling each other rather than telling us.
In the midst of all this is a sense of the everyday, the commonplace, particularly in the shape of Agneta Ekmanner’s Sabana. She manages to demolish anything that smacks of pretension or solemnity. She is in a building with Gorki Glaser-Müller’s David; the two of them are supposed to stop a Jew from escaping. Niklas Ek plays the Jew with such calmness and reserve, and with so few words. In my mind’s eye I can see him move across the stage like the principal dancer of the Cullberg Ballet. It makes for a very remarkable effect.
Björn Granath also plays the Jew and is also called Abahn. But they appear to be two different people, which serves to undermine the clichéd view of the Jew, which takes no account of individual differences. The Jew is supposed to be killed by someone, by David or the absent Gringo, and perhaps that goes for all Jews.
There are a lot of references to Jewish dogs. It is not entirely clear if the Jews have dogs or are being called dogs. Presumably both. We can hear the sound of barking. David sleeps under the table and suffers from nightmares. Both the Abahns play chess. Sabana does not know who she is. She has never left the town, Staadt, a model for each and every city, like in Brecht.
They are all shut up in a room. The projections on the walls depict other rooms, the forest; they all seem nevertheless to remain in the same place. This is an abstract location with links to the real world: Niklas Ek’s Abahn has a number carved into his arm, from his time in a concentration camp. There are references to gas chambers, which are now being replaced by something else. There is talk of Nazism and Communism. Björn Granath says something about being a Communist who believes in the impossibility of Communism.
But it is not the concrete political references that carry the most weight. It is the interplay between the people in the room that makes the deepest impression: Glaser-Müller’s physical disquiet, Ekmanner’s journey towards being with the Jew, perhaps becoming the Jew, Ek’s and Granath’s shifting between a profound calm and terrible, terrified quaking.
A Mystery Play about the Wandering Jew
Marguerite Duras wrote the novel Abahn Sabana David in despair at the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968, which made her lose faith in the future of Communism. The book has now become a play at Stockholm’s Jewish Theatre and Ylva Lagercrantz found it uplifting in every sense.
In Hundarna i Prag (The Dogs in Prague), her stage version of the novel, Pia Forsgren’s aim is to highlight the political side of Duras. She has previously staged more poetic pieces by Duras: Hiroshima mon amour at the Royal Dramatic Theatre (1995) followed by Savannah Bay, which was also produced at the Jewish Theatre. Assisting her in her endeavours is the poet and member of the Swedish Academy Katarina Frostenson, who has translated the novel. The audience enters via the stage door on what turns out to be an intellectual adventure. And, as usual, the Jewish Theatre has mounted one of the most spectacular technical displays to be seen at any independent Stockholm theatre. On this occasion we are hoisted up or down in the auditorium; it is hard to be sure which. And that is the whole point. Since just whose perspective are we seeing the following story from:
A Jew by the name of Abahn is in fact two Jews: played by Niklas Ek and Björn Granath. Two other individuals, Sabana (Agneta Ekmanner) and David (Gorki Glaser-Müller) take him to an unfamiliar building to keep watch over him the night before he is to be executed. The place is called Staadt, a town which could be any town. In the background dogs are howling, the dogs in Prague, the starving, emaciated rejects of society or the Jew’s cherished pets? During the dark hours of the wolf to come a remarkable drama is enacted between these four individuals.
As a member of the audience, you need to have done your homework both in history and literary studies if you are going to get the full measure of the play and understand all the levels of meaning. Then again if you have not, you can just lie back – which you will be doing automatically anyway in the cinema-like auditorium that transforms the rows of seats into a comfortable horizontal position. All that is left to do is concentrate on enjoying the wonderful acting, with special mention going to Gorki-Müller’s portrayal of a hunted man in a cold sweat. Or else you can think about other matters that might have to do with what you are seeing on stage – social exclusion, discrimination and the neo-Nazis.
The question the play appears to be asking is: who is the victim and who the perpetrator in a society where everyone is so self-involved? These roles are not distinct on stage and our sympathies shift between them from one moment to the next. One minute David is the victim, the next it is Abahn, while the eternal perpetrator (Gringo) is never seen. The question is whether the people being portrayed are even flesh and blood or simply representative of their time. In one of the exchanges, for example, Sabana (Agneta Ekmanner) asks the Jew (Niklas Ek), “Did you get to live and die where you wanted to?” And suddenly the place becomes a kind of limbo in which the Jew is playing chess with Death, a mystery play about the Wandering Jew who is the everyman in our story. Perhaps one of the murdered thousands whose only resurrection is in the names in the memorial room in the Jewish cemetery in Prague, a possibility which is accentuated by the projected image of just such a commemorative wall (set design: Tomas Franck and Kenneth Björk). The end is made more concrete and Ibsenesque by the pistol that can shoot at any moment at any one of them.
Once back again among the glorious October colours of Djurgården, the smell of decaying leaves takes on a new significance – our history is no more constant than that. To any reader who feels none the wiser having read this review – go and see The Dogs in Prague if what you are after is a visual and intellectual eye-opener and one of this season’s most remarkable theatrical experiences, but don’t think you will come away having understood it all. Not immediately at least.