20th February 2014

Dramaten, Stockholm

by Hjalmar Söderberg

This production opened at Målarsalen, the Royal Dramatic Theatre’s small stage on the 20th February 2014 and ran in repertoire until May 4th 2014.

Production photographs by Sörin Vilks

Hjalmar Söderberg and the meaning of love

Titta litte på mig

Ar jag vackar?
Ar jag ung?
Lever jag?


Look at me

Am I beautiful?
Am I young?
Am I alive?

These are the three questions at the heart of Gertrud. Söderberg puts them into the mouth of a ghostly projection of his central character in the middle of the play. They are the questions that Gertrud Kanning is implicitly asking herself throughout the course of the action – and it is clearly Söderberg’s intention that the audience too, in trying to understand what love means for all his characters, should ask itself the same questions. 

The questions are, of course, highly subjective – especially when asked in the course of a live piece of theatre. Every member of the audience will be more or less old than the actress playing Gertrud, more or less beautiful, more or less alive to his or her passions, needs and dreams.  But as the audience watches the action of the play, they will see some part of their own lives brought to life in the five characters of the drama. Anyone who has loved fervently but not been loved in return, anyone who has been the object of love but unable to return it, anyone who has jealously guarded a love they do not deserve or cannot manage, anyone who regrets the loss of a love they once treasured or never properly valued, anyone whose love has faded, or grown old or died, all these will see their lives played out in this drama. And that must be all of us, I suppose. 

What seems to motivate Söderberg as a writer more than anything else is an almost forensic interest in how his fellow human beings navigate themselves through the emotional journeys of their lives. He was able to analyse their thoughts and actions with extraordinary accuracy by delving into his own subjective experience for inspiration. He is obviously present in all three of the male characters, the young genius, passionately creative and driven by his art but careless of the hearts of others, the caring husband yearning for certainty in his marriage and the old lion still in his artistic prime but feeling deeply the weight of the passing years. 

But Söderberg is also present in Gertrud herself – and even in her mother-in-law, Fru Kanning. He writes with an instinctive understanding of how women were struggling for an equal place in society at a time when self-expression, ambition and sexual freedom were largely denied to them. But it is the way he charts Gertrud’s central dilemma that is most extraordinary – describing her artistic, intellectual and emotional yearnings in a deeply sympathetic but unsentimental way, and without ever compromising the truth of the male characters who have come to define and control her world.

This is perhaps Söderberg’s most salient talent, and one he shares with very few other playwrights - this uncanny ability to get into the minds of his characters in a completely even-handed way, to create a gripping emotional narrative without diminishing the motives or inner truth of any of his characters, or favouring any one of them over the others.

As you watch the action unfolding and the characters trying to answer the questions at the heart of play, you can also marvel at the genius of the man who is telling the story, a man fearlessly exploring the possibility that life has no meaning when stripped of love – and that love itself is meaningless if not constantly challenged and cherished and shared as the years flit away from us.

John Caird
Stockholm 2014

Creative Team

Director John Caird
Set Designs byJan Lundberg
Costumes byAnn-Margret Fyregård
Lighting byHans-Åke Sjöquist
Sound Design byJohan Bengtsson
Wigs and Make-up byHanna Söderström
Dramaturg Jacob Hirdwall
Music byWilhelm Stenhammer
Musical Supervision Göran Martling
Prompter Hanna Pauli
Stage Manager Henrik Nilsson
Producer Lisen Andersson


Gertrud Kanning Anna Björk
Gustav Kanninf Jonas Malmsjö
Erland Jannsson Otto Hargne Kin
Gabriel Lidman Magnus Ehrner
Mrs Kanning Mia Persson
‘Under Vintergatan’ sung byBeatrice Orler
Accompanied byGöran Martling
Other Characters’ Voices played byInga-Lill Andersson, Carl Magnus Dellow,Peter Engman, Björn Granath, Pontus Gustafsson, Emma Mehonic, Eva Melander, Andreas T Olsson, Matias Silvell & Christoffer Svensson

Technical Team

Technical Director Timotej Åkerman
Assistant Technical Director Jesper Larsson
Board Operator Jenni Godoy
Theatre Technician Claes Snell
Wardrobe Lisa Pousette Blomé
Props Anders Colliander & Lotta Wallin
Carpentry Lennart Ericsson
Upholstery Susanne Granehag Riismark
Paintshop Gustavo Aguerre
CuttersMikael Mohlin & Brita Silfwerbrand
Graphic Design Nina Hoogland
Artistic Director of Dramaten Marie-Louise Ekman