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150-year-old Norwegian play makes Korea debut

Mar 28,2017
Celebrating Seoul Metropolitan Theatre’s 20 years, “The Pretenders” by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, known to many as the father of theater’s realism movement, makes its Korean premiere at the M Theater on Friday.

“The Pretenders” is one of Ibsen’s most representative works; an epic of five acts that centers on the idea of “finding hope in despair,” according to director Kim Kwang-bo.

Director Kim, currently the head of the Seoul Metropolitan Theatre, is known for his meticulous characterization and will no doubt highlight the psychologies of three men fighting to become king.

“[On the surface it is] a story of a power struggle to become king of Norway, but what is more important are the questions these characters ask themselves in the process,” said Kim Mi-hye, professor emeritus at Hanyang University and the translator of “The Pretenders.” Kim is also the nation’s only Ibsen expert. “All of the ‘pretenders’ go through an inner conflict, asking themselves if their pursuits [to be king] are justified. Even Ibsen himself was going through a similar inner conflict when he wrote this epic.”

“The Pretenders” follows three men in pursuit of power after the death of King Sverre Sigurdsson in 13th century Norway. The play is mostly based on historic facts; Hakon is king-elect of Norway, believing he has the backing of God and is the only character to have full confidence in being king. Earl Skule is a nobleman, who actually exerted more power than the king-elect during the earlier part of Hakon’s reign.

Skule epitomizes the theme, constantly questioning his actions and justifications on the inside whilst strengthening his case for the throne. The third and final pretender is the Bishop of Oslo, Nikolas Arnesson. Knowing he couldn’t be king early on, he quickly turned to the realms of religion to become a man of authority there. Meanwhile, he continues to instigate hatred between Hakon and Skule.

The story coincidentally has a lot in common with the current political state of Korea. When asked, director Kim said, “It’s really a coincidence, we have been preparing this play since 22 months ago, when I was elected head of the Seoul Metropolitan Theatre. However, I must admit the dialogues from the play are in accord with the times, amazingly, more than 150 years after it was written.”

Kang Shin-ku, one of the founding members of the theater, who plays an assistant to nobleman Skule, gave an interesting insight into his role. “I help Skule in becoming the King, but he questions his own credibility and crumbles from within. As he crumbles, I crumble as well, and have to leave his side. It goes to show how calamitous it is to serve an immoral leader.

BY KIM JUNG-KYOON [kim.jungkyoon@joongang.co.kr]



“The Pretenders” kicks off Friday at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. It starts at 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and at 2 and 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. No performances on Tuesdays. Tickets range from 20,000 won ($18) to 50,000 won.