Review: “The fire” at the National Theater – Controlled anxiety









«Introverted and disturbing»

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In the opening scene, Helene Naustdal Bergsholm sits like Jon alone on a stool. Around her, there are light projections that bring to mind a scene from the sci-fi film “Interstellar” – where the main character has blown up time and space and ended up in a five-dimensional state behind the bookshelf in his daughter’s bedroom. In “The Fire”, a huge 3D ultrasound-like version of the actor is blown up on the back wall at the same time. The actor’s movements in this video projection are reminiscent of those seen in fetuses where the ultrasound image is not powerful enough to capture all the limbs, and the outer joints somehow melt away at the edge of the image.

Already in this scene, it opens up to skyrocketing associations – about connections between something primitive and new technology, about relative time, about the near and the alienated.


The charged visual images are the show’s strongest card throughout. The many text passages are sometimes experienced as more forced.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that it is almost exclusively professional actors who perform the text here? In other performances of The Chosen Ones, the performances often contain a juxtaposition of performers with and without previous acting experience, a contrast that is always experienced as enormously life-giving. Although all the actors in “Brannen” are strong, there is something polished about the text performance. It helps to create a slightly distanced expression.


At the same time, De Utvalgte reinforces the feverishness of the novel – in a magnificently advanced changeable scenography. Here, the stage is dominated by a huge, moving screen where Boya Bøckman’s diverse video art is projected.

The associations the scenography evokes often go to another central sci-fi work; to the way the conscious planet or organism Solaris is visualized in Tarkoviski’s film of 1972. The physical surroundings come to life through canvas and video, the scenography meanders, burns and pulsates around the actors on the National Theater’s main stage. In the stage floor there are openings down to puddles, swamps, wormholes, tortured sheep.

In this way, the scenographic elements become as important actors in the performance as the more classic living the performers, which creates both horror and gives a spiritual touch to the story.

Swallows / seabirds

Vesaas’ novel is written at a rather hectic pace. As soon as Jon steps outside the house, new and strange characters begin to appear to him. A “sheep woman” leads him to a collection of badly injured and dying sheep, because she thinks that Jon “does not know much better about being ill?”. A “sawmill” stands and saws and saws luminous wasp slices that a young boy places across the forest plain. A man looking for a missing girl. Two porters carry a burnt offering on a stretcher while constantly stepping on worms.

Perhaps the nicest scene is with the gang thawing frost-damaged swallows around a fire, and wrapping them tenderly in pieces of cloth. At the National Theater, the birds are larger and more similar to injured seabirds – one of several hints of the catastrophic destruction of nature we live with.

THE FIRE at the National Theater.  Photo: Øyvind Eide

THE FIRE at the National Theater. Photo: Øyvind Eide
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The constantly new encounters with strange characters and situations are experienced as both feverish and fateful. The Representation’s presentation reflects the novel’s stream of conciousness-like drive from scene to scene.


But despite a lot of oral reproduction of the original lines of exchange from the novel, “The Fire” at the National Theater is experienced as more introverted and distanced than, for example, Haakon Sandøy’s film adaptation from 1973.

The professional text presentation is mentioned. Another reason for the distancing comes from the fact that much of the play takes place far into the stage, that the actors’ facial expressions are only exceptionally something we can glimpse from the audience rows. This is possibly done to emphasize the interaction of the different characters with the surroundings.

Something else comes from the fact that where the individual elements in the novel are strange, the Chosen Ones have added even more underlying elements. In the scene where Jon meets the meadow owner in his beautiful meadow, a strangely enormous radar revolves around the back of the scene (what is it searching for?). In other scenes, a robot dog suddenly wanders in from the side without doing much of itself. The missing young girl and the young boy in the woods have just as Andy Warhol-like wigs as Jon. And the sheep woman’s mysterious, innocent daughter begins to pole-dance on the edge of the stage – as the most natural thing in the world.

At the same time, an enormous discomfort rests over it all. From the tiring sound of perpetual sawing, to the man guard looking for the girl wearing chemical protective suits. These elements are never bombastic, but emphasize the dystopian.

Vesaas had been heavily involved in the fight against nuclear weapons, and wanted with “The Fire” to give a literary expression to the dire situation in the world in the late 50’s. Now there are other threats that can cause general existential anxiety. But the Elect do not paint this with a broad brush.


This way of assembling strange stage elements and creating open spaces for interpretation is one of the most fascinating things about The Chosen Ones.

I am so lucky that I have experienced a large number of performances by the group. They often have single scenes in the performances that somehow jump over the intellect and straight into the emotions of the audience. Scenes that settle in the subconscious and which in retrospect can suddenly appear and make me hiccup. And that inadvertently can offer new insights, several years after I have seen the performances.

Despite the somewhat distant aspects of “The Fire”, the stage images here too soon begin to smolder. Themes such as the contrast between the natural and the alienated, between vulnerability and bravery, about the desire to help versus the need for help, whether there is really an essential difference between imagined and real dangers, crystallize.

This is how the “Fire” of the Elect works as an uncompromising meditation on man’s belonging to all living and non-living things, and on his vulnerable place in life. And with a glimmer of hope towards the end: «A debris in an immeasurable suffocation. But still … »