Alexander Salzberger | Sweden
Meet our New Nordic Voices playwrights
PLAYWRIGHTS IN FOCUS:
” I want to believe that the themes in my play and the dark humour – which sprung from a Swedish context – can also resonate in the UK”
New Nordic Voices is a new translation programme for emerging Nordic playwrights. The scheme aims to enable Nordic talent to find an audience overseas, gaining further recognition through the translation of their text. The selected texts from the participating countries, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland form part of a showcase 29 March – 2 April 2021, hoping to give the contemporary Nordic voices a platform.
As a part of our article series, we want to shift the focus to our amazing playwrights.
Get to know them better through these interviews, and what theatre is like in their country, before the showcase of the first ever translation of their play. For our last interview, we round off this journey in Sweden with playwright Alexander Salzberger and his play ‘Real Knows Real’.
How did you get into writing, and what’s your journey been to where you are now?
I started writing my own material during my years on the Acting programme at the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts. In the beginning, I mainly did stand-up comedy which then successively progressed into monologues for the stage. In 2012, my autobiographical monologue Kicktorsken, which I also directed and performed in, opened at the Backa Teater in Gothenburg. It was critically acclaimed and later transferred to the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. Altogether, the monologue ran for five years. At the same time, I wrote my first novel [Kicktorsken] based on the monologue. When the novel was published, I was approached by a couple of theatres asking me to write new plays for them.
How would you describe yourself as a writer?
I believe I have a sense of rhythm and musicality in my dialogue. It’s emotional and I always aim for a sense of soul in my ”sound”. I often let my dialogue shift between hyperrealism and more elevated forms of expression. I want my words to burn and have a continuous sense of forward motion, as well as being interested in linguistic low points where the dialogue pace is at a zero.
Tell us about your play and your starting point for writing it.
After the success of Kicktorsken, The Stockholm City Theatre and House of Culture commissioned what would become my first full length play Real Knows Real. I wanted to write about class, suburban issues from the point of view of an artist returning. I started fantasising about the main character’s class journey: maybe it wasn’t a happy one. That’s how the play was born. It was also important to me to solely be a playwright on the project, and not a director. I wanted to see what would happen to the text when it was tackled by someone else’s theatrical vision and temperament.
How would you describe theatre in Sweden, what are the main styles and themes?
It’s a difficult question. There is a strong tradition of psychological realism but lately it has become more dissolved and deconstructed. I have worked as an actor for fifteen years with both Swedish and international directors. I still don’t know what ’typical Swedish theatre’ is. I personally prefer theatre that has a strong physical element but still aims for a perfect linguistic pitch.
How do you feel about your work coming to the UK?
Pure excitement. I want to believe that the themes in my play and the dark humour – which sprung from a Swedish context – also can resonate in the UK. The original cast was applauded for their performances after our premiere in Stockholm. Being someone who holds British actors in a very high esteem, I am excited to see their interpretation. I believe that the play can offer excellent material for any actor.
How has your translator supported you throughout this process?
My translator has been fantastic and very supportive! She has offered great conversations and overall, she has a very impressive understanding of language as something that’s fluid, constantly changeable and at times, volatile.
What do you think Nordic plays can bring to theatres and audiences around the world?
I’m not sure. In the best of worlds: A human perspective, that feels close but at the same time surprising and enriching.
After graduating from Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts in 2007, Alexander has both worked as an actor, on stage and on screen, and established himself as an emerging playwright and director. In 2012 he wrote, directed, and performed in the monologue Kicktorsken, which was nominated for a Swedish Association of Theatre Critics’ award. In 2017, his first novel was published to critical acclaim, and in 2019 his play Äkta känner äkta was produced by the Stockholm City Theatre. Alexander can currently be seen on stage at the Royal Dramatic Theatre and has recently been commissioned to write two new plays.
Real Knows Real
written by Alexander Salzberger, translated by Marie Parker Shaw
After the #MeToo movement shakes the creative industries to the core, Amir, a celebrated actor-turned-writer living a comfortable middle-class life, decides to go back to the estate where he grew up to make a documentary film about class and toxic masculinity. When he meets his old friends, Amir is forced to confront all of the traumatic memories from his teenage years, and unexpectedly finds himself the subject of the documentary instead of the artist behind it. He is left to grapple with questions about privilege, and with which parts of his life and identity he is willing to exploit for the sake of lending an air of authenticity and credibility to his art. The play, itself not autobiographical but inspired by the playwright’s own background, asks us to interrogate our ideas about lived experience and the authentic voice, and which artists we place those demands on.