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Niklas Rådström, Kvartett (Quartet)

Wahlström & Widstrand,  2002. ISBN: 9146200371

Reviewed by Anne Born in SBR 2003:1

Niklas Rådström is one of Sweden’s most prolific and original writers. The four plays in this volume add to his already impressive range of works: poems, essays, novels and drama; and these are four widely differing plays. Lång tystnad. Plötsligt mörker (Long Silence. Sudden Darkness) is a rewritten version of a play from 1998-99, a first prizewinner in a Scandinavian drama competition held at Copenhagen in 2001. It could be performed either in theatre or television. The three acts are adapted from the three censored chapters of Dostoevsky’s Evil Spirits. The setting is present-day, this study of guilt and the refusal to properly acknowledge it is played in a large, well-lit apartment room, which doubles as bedroom and living room with a prominent television set, and could also be a psychoanalyst’s treatment room. The video film that forms part of the play shows other characters than those in the room, also a rehearsal room and a room in a closed institution or prison. Quartet makes almost as much use of music as speech. A string quartet plays the five repetitive movements of Shostakovich’s String quartet No 8 in c minor from off or side stage. The four characters are Russian musicians from the Soviet and post-Soviet era. Sergei is a famous violinist who left Russia before liberation. Irina’s beloved father, Isaac, remained. He was a closet revolutionary, betrayed and sent to prison. In the play his betrayer is revealed to be Sergei, to the shock of the others. Each of the five scenes or acts is named after those of the music. Each character has had secret knowledge of one of the others until this night. This play is a study of human con-cealment, and again guilt comes into it. På vägen till havet (On the Way to the Sea) was written in the mid-1990s, and performed in Sweden in 1998. It takes the form of a case study. The baby born to dysfunctional parents has been tied by her father to a commode by day and shut in a cupboard by night. She is now 12, and without the power of speech. The social services take over and manage with great difficulty to get her talking; but after several years she relapses, it seems through wrong treatment, and reverts to her mute and uncommunicative state. This is the longest of the four plays, and to me seemed too long, the numerous scenes showing the treatment could be radically cut, although amazingly vivid. Tala! Det är så mörkt (Speak Up! It’s So Dark) was written as a filmscript, later transcribed for stage performance; it appeared in Sweden, Norway and Holland. Slightly reminiscent of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, it shows a long series of sessions with a psychiatrist, Jacob, and a dysfunctional youth, Sören. He is destructive but weak, feels bound to join a neo-Nazi gang but is always in fear. He is a very hard nut, and Jacob makes slow progress with cracking him. When Jacob reveals he is a Jew, Sören insults him. We are left not knowing whether the treatment is helping or not. So all four plays deal with painful social problems of varying kinds, unflinchingly. They are important, and leave one wondering what this gifted writer will produce next. The plays are a far cry – not an inept expression here – from the tough but often humorous world of Rådström’s novels or the aesthetically delicate one of his poems.

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