An interview with Kåre Conradi
by Kasia Mroczkowska
Famed for his lead role in the Netflix original series Norsemen, Kåre Conradi is one of Norway’s most experienced stage and screen actors. He is also founder and Artistic Director of the Norwegian Ibsen Company, co-producers of our current production, The Lady from the Sea. Here Kåre discusses Ibsen, the challenges of translation, and different shades of humour.
Why is it important for this production of The Lady from the Sea to have both English and Norwegian spoken on stage?
First of all, we decided that doctor Wangel and his daughters should be English. Living in Norway with his second wife Elllida they communicate in English, but at the same time being Norwegian, she still wants to speak her own language; so they end up using both.
I can relate to that in a sense that one of my mum’s sisters married an Englishman and as a result I had three cousins who spoke English. We used to visit them in London. When they moved to Norway we used to communicate both in English and Norwegian, so this production has a personal meaning to me in this way. Another reason for using both languages on stage was to keep the musicality of the production. It’s also our gift to the audience; we give you Ibsen’s words exactly the way he wrote them, and as a result you can come closer to the source text.
What are the main challenges of translating Ibsen into English?
One word can usually be translated into a few different words, and it’s not always easy to find exactly the right word. One of the reasons that here in the UK Ibsen was considered to be extremely dark, and why some of the critics would say at the time “could we please get rid of this gloomy, awful Norwegian atmosphere” [laughs], was partially because there were some layers of text that were not translated well back then. Ibsen can be heavy, but also funny at the same time.
In the same flat in Oslo where we rehearsed The Lady from the Sea, Ibsen famously once had an argument with Bjørnson who spoke very fondly of the farmers. At some point when asked how he felt about them, Ibsen allegedly said: “I think they should all be shot,” and then he smiled. And of course he didn’t mean that, but it was the sense of humour he had.
Speaking of a unique sense of humour; what do you think it is about Norsemen, in which you play one of the lead roles, that resonates with so many people regardless of where they are from?
I think that British comedies, like Monty Python, helped there, because people have already experienced this sense of humour. I was really amazed by all of the Norsemen reviews when they first came out. It’s amazing to be part of something that more and more people watch and find funny all over the world.
It’s the second time you perform on our stage at the Coronet Theatre; how does it feel to be back?
I wrote in The Lady from the Sea programme that ‘I walked through these doors two years ago for the first time, and I feel that I haven’t really left since’, which is true [smiles]. I thought of this theatre so many times, and this place turned out to be so much more than I had expected in every way. It’s such a special, magical environment that I’ve never worked in before. You can almost see Anda Winters in everything here; like staff lighting candles in the bar… and then there is this building in itself, and its history. It’s all so amazing!
How would you describe Arnholm, the character you are currently playing in The Lady from the Sea?
He is a tricky man. He comes across as very kind, but there is some darkness there. He is a middle-aged man who never got married, and has never been in a serious relationship. He is slightly desperate as well; either desperate to find someone, or just desperate in a sense that he feels that life is passing him by. Arnholm is the same age as I am, so in a way playing this character makes me feel old [laughs]. But it’s an interesting experience to play him. What’s also interesting, quite recently I also found out that my ancestor Olaf Hansson was chosen by Ibsen himself to play Arnholm in the very first production of The Lady from the Sea [in 1889]! There is a big painting of him in the green room at the National Theatre of Norway, and I used to sit on the sofa under his painting, and I had no idea who he was, and suddenly last year I realised it was him; and he played Arnholm as well!
Image: Tristram Kenton
What can we expect from this production of The Lady from the Sea?
First of all, I’m very proud to be able to introduce great Norwegian cast & creatives to British audiences: Marit Moum Aune who’s been a legend in Norway for such a long time; Øystein Røger who has won so many awards for his work, especially for his lead roles in Jon Fosse’s plays who is the Ibsen of our times; Pia Tjelta from National Theatre of Norway; Erlend Birkeland who does stage design; and Nils Petter Molvær who composed the music, which is perfect for this play, because it has a very Nordic sound. And our brilliant production team as well! To have all these brilliant Norwegians involved with this production and to present them to the UK theatre world, I find that very exciting. And of course, it’s also great to have Adrian Rawlins who is such a great actor, and Marina Bye who is also fantastic, and finally the brilliant Ed Ashley and Molly Windsor having their stage debut.
What’s also important, through this play people can meet this woman Ellida who is such a complex character; she is so human! The Lady from the Sea was written after A Doll’s House, and Ellida’s character almost feels as if Ibsen had thought to himself: “What could happen if we took this story a bit further?” and opened the doors of a doll’s house into the sea. That’s a good expression, I need to write it down [laughs]. I’m also hoping there will be lots of laughter from the audience; there is a reason why Ibsen called it a comedy – there is lots of lightness to it. This play is a bit like a box of secrets, it will hit everyone in a different way, so hopefully a meeting with this play will be a bit like a meeting with yourself.
The Lady from the Sea runs until 9 March I Book now