BWW Reviews: DOKTOR GLAS, Wyndham's Theatre, April 18 2013

The main draw of the one-man show Doktor Glas, performed in Swedish with English surtitles, is undoubtedly its star - one of Sweden's most famous actors, Krister Henriksson, best known to British audiences for playing the eponymous hero in the detective series Wallander. On the opening night of his West End debut, in a role which has earned him great success in Sweden, Henriksson was showered with flowers and received a standing ovation, as he took his bow after an intense (90-minute straight-through) performance.

He is what drives this piece, but Hjalmar Söderberg's turn-of-the-century novel, adapted for the stage by Allan Edwall, holds its own. A certain outward crankiness - accentuated by the staid setting of a period doctor's surgery - belies a compelling psychological study into loneliness and fantasy. Doktor Glas is a physician who finds himself in a position to help the object of his unrequited love, the unhappily married wife of a repellent (both physically and morally) pastor. What begins with a false diagnosis warranted by a coolly thought-out personal moral code ends in a troubling climax, with passion at the helm.

At the time of its publication, in Sweden in 1905, Doktor Glas caused a scandal with what now seem like highly modern themes, including sex and euthanasia. But Söderberg's treatment of these - and Henriksson's too, for that matter - is more meditative than revolutionary. Doktor Glas speaks eloquently but, as a fantasist, he is an untrustworthy narrator.

This simple fact is the source of much of the tension that drives the story, and it's something that Edwall's adaptation uses the language of the stage to manipulate: when Doktor Glas tells us an anecdote he must act out the parts played by people, and because this is a show with a single narrator we accept this. But when that same theatrical conceit is used to relate imagined events, the audience becomes complicit in the confusion over the boundary between what's real and what's not.

Not that there is anything mad about Doktor Glas, really. In fact he is sympathetic, and Henriksson's portrayal of the 30-something doctor who worries that he is in the wrong profession, longs to be loved, and lusts over a woman who will not love him back, is sensitive. However, Henriksson is microphoned, something which does little to resolve the automatically distancing effect of watching a play in a language you don't understand. This seemed a poor move, and muted the pathos of a nevertheless intellectually enjoyable play.

Doktor Glas runs at the Wyndham's Theatre until May 11.



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From This Author Becky Brewis

Becky Brewis is a writer and regular contributor of theatre features to IdeasTap and A Younger Theatre.