I’m really pleased to be able to give you a guest post from Professor Batty. He is a fellow Iceland-obsessive from the US who has been blogging about Iceland amongst other things for much longer than I have. His archive of posts includes some of my favourite blog posts on all things Iceland and is well worth a read. Check him out at Flippist Archives. Now, over to the Professor…
Those of you interested in exploring Icelandic culture may find that a visit to one or both of the two major theatre companies in Reykjavík to be most rewarding. They aren’t usually listed in most tourist guides for a couple of reasons: they are not active in the summer season and the plays are all in Icelandic. If you do happen find yourself in town between September and May you would be wise to check them out:
Þjóðleikhúsið, the National Theatre, is located in an intimidating structure on Hverfisgata, with a smaller “box” theatre situated on Lindargata, the street behind it. Þjóðleikhúsið offers a mixture of plays in its season, including serious drama by foreign playwrights, modern Icelandic drama, contemporary Icelandic comedy, and several shows for children. These are world-class productions, with fantastic sets, brilliant direction and feature many of the fine actors you’ve probably seen already in Icelandic films. The smaller Kassinn (box) venue features intimate and usually a little “edgier” fare. Baltasar Kormákur‘s 2006 production of Peer Gynt was the most intense theatre I’ve ever experienced. The main stage offers a little more traditional fare (only a little), Hallgrímur Helgason’s Þetta er allt að koma, for example, was a wild ride through Icelandic consciousness.
Borgarleikhúsið is the City Theatre. Located on the south end of Kringlan, it usually runs a little lighter in tone, with an emphasis on musicals and family fare (Mary Poppins, for example). The smaller theater offers current playwrights; on a recent visit I saw John Logan’s Red (Rautt), a Tony-award winning play about the artist Mark Rothko. The Borgarleikhúsið complex is newer than the Þjóðleikhúsið, with a beautiful vast lobby worthy of a visit by itself.
Don’t let the language barrier prevent you from trying one of these unique experiences. You might want to avoid overly “talky” dramas, but I’ve found that the expressive acting in most plays usually makes up for my lack of literary comprehension. A play you are already familiar with, for example Shakespeare’s Macbeth (offered this winter at the Þjóðleikhúsið), would lose little in translation. The tickets are reasonable (4400 kronur, about $35 or £24 and while it is possible to order on line, it requires some help from Google translate. If you are already in Reykjavík, you may want to visit the box office a couple of days in advance for the performances often sell out. If you are by yourself, or can’t convince your traveling partner to come along, you’ll have a better chance of scoring a single ticket to a popular show. Part of any theatre experience is the people watching during the intermission and the Icelanders do enjoy dressing up for the occasion so dress up yourself—you’ll become part of that show! The matinees are somewhat less formal.
A big part of Iceland’s appeal for me is its language. Attending a play there is an opportunity to hear it spoken at a very high level. The Icelandic language and its culture, when distilled into a dramatic context at either of these theatres, can create memories which you’ll never forget.