Skip to main content

The Deep - To Be Humbled In Iceland

Icelandic theatre may not be very well known in Scotland, but with the premiere of Jon Atli Jonasson play, Djupid (The Deep), at Oran Mor as part of the venue’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint season of lunchtime theatre, followed by a highland tour, all that may be about to change. This is down to director Graeme Maley, who has translated Jonasson’s one-man true story set around a small town fishing tragedy into an earthy Ayrshire dialect.

“It’s a very famous Icelandic story,” says Maley, “which happened in the 1980s, when everyone drowned apart from this one guy who miraculously managed to swim ashore. The guy it happened to has become a bit of a celebrity through his experience and the escape he had. Jon Atli met the guy it happened to, and he’s got quite a sea-faring background himself. His dad was a fisherman and a novelist, and Jon Atli’s very passionate about the sea.

“He originally wanted to do it in a straight English version, which I thought was a bad idea, because the scenes are really tied to the sea, and I thought it would be better to do it in a dialect that I knew. I’ve never translated before, but Jon Atli encouraged me to go for it. My Icelandic’s not great, so he did a very pure, slightly stilted English version, and after that we batted things between us to come up with the version we’ve got. I wanted it to be like what happened with the translation of (Quebecois writer) Michel Tremblay’s play, A Solemn Mass For A Full Moon In Summer which The Traverse did a few years ago, to do the play in a Scottish voice, but to keep the essence of the Icelandic flavour intact.”

As an Ayrshire boy and former trainee director at the Traverse Theatre who went on to run Liverpool-based new writing company, The New Works, Maley stumbled on Icelandic theatre by accident. A project with Paines Plough in London was seen by an Icelandic theatre company, who invited Maley to work with them. With a working relationship established, Maley went on to work regularly in Iceland, and eventually directed the Icelandic premiere of Blackbird, David Harrower’s controversial play which caused a stir in its original Edinburgh International Festival production. It was after seeing this that Jonasson approached Maley with a view to working on Djupid. Atli, as Maley points out, is something of a big hitter in an Icelandic theatre scene more used to physical-based work than text.

Born in Reykjavik in 1972, Jonasson dropped out of high school, and worked as a fisherman for a while himself in-between jobs as a pizza chef, a heavy metal DJ and a construction worker. In 2001 a collection of short stories about people searching for things in the snow, A Broken Beat, was published. Significantly, most of the stories protagonists never found what they were looking for. In 2002 Jonasson won a playwriting competition in Iceland, since when he has produced scripts for stage, radio, TV and film. An international residency at London’s Royal Court theatre in 2003 opened him up to global exposure, and in 2005, his translation of Buchner’s play, Woyzeck, was produced in London at The Barbican by Iceland’s Vesterport Theatre, featuring aerialists in a cast who reinvented the original play. In 2004, Jonasson’s play, Surf, another piece set on a dishing boat, received five nominations for the Grimen, the Icelandic theatre award, with Jonasson named as playwright of the year. Surf played in Germany the same year, and was later nominated for the Nordic Drama Award.

“He’s very much carved out his own path,” Maley says of Jonasson. “Icelandic theatre is very visual-based, and Jon Atli doesn’t really fit in with that.”

Atli’s original Icelandic version of Djupid opens in Reykjavik in May, while in the summer Maley will produce an English version with an Icelandic actor. Maley also hopes to bring other Icelandic works to Scotland.

“There are a lot of interesting Icelandic writers,” he says, “who are responding to the mess we’re in pretty quickly, and I think that speaks to all of us.”

Djupid (The Deep), Oran Mor, Glasgow, April 13-18, 1pm, then tours to the Highlands, The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen and Dundee Rep

The Herald, April 2009



Popular posts from this blog

The Honourable K.W. Harman: Ltd Ink Corporation

31 Bath Road, Leith Docks, March 17th-20th

In a monumental shipping container down by Leith Docks, a Sex Pistols tribute band is playing Anarchy in the U.K.. on a stage set up in the middle of the room. Either side, various constructions have been built in such a way so viewers can window shop as they promenade from one end of the room to the next, with the holy grail of a bar at either end.

Inbetween, there’s a confession booth and a mock-up of a private detective’s office with assorted documentation of real-life surveillance pinned to the walls. Two people seem to be having a conversation in public as if they're on a chat show. An assault course of smashed windows are perched on the floor like collateral damage of post-chucking out time target practice. A display of distinctively lettered signs originally created by a homeless man in search of a bed for the night are clumped together on placards that seem to be marking out territory or else finding comfort in being together. Opp…

The Maids

Dundee Rep

Two sisters sit in glass cases either side of the stage at the start of Eve Jamieson's production of Jean Genet's nasty little study of warped aspiration and abuse of power. Bathed in red light, the women look like artefacts in some cheap thrill waxworks horror-show, or else exhibits in a human zoo. Either way, they are both trapped, immortalised in a freak-show possibly of their own making.

Once the sisters come to life and drape themselves in the sumptuous bedroom of their absent mistress, they raid her bulging wardrobe to try on otherwise untouchable glad-rags and jewellery. As they do, the grotesque parody of the high-life they aspire to turns uglier by the second. When the Mistress returns, as played with daring abandon by Emily Winter as a glamour-chasing narcissist who gets her kicks from drooling over the criminal classes, you can't really blame the sisters for their fantasy of killing her.

Slabs of sound slice the air to punctuate each scene of Mart…


Tramway, Glasgow until July 2nd
Four stars

In the dead of night, the audience are split in two and led under-cover into lamp-lit tented structures. Inside, what look like peasant women on the run lead us down a ramp and into a large circular pod. It feels part cathedral, part space-ship, and to come blinking into the light of such a fantastical structure after stumbling in the dark disorientates and overwhelms. Sat around the pod as if awaiting prayers to begin, we watch as performers Nerea Bello and Judith Williams incant mournfully on either side of the room. Their keening chorales embark on a voyage of their own, twisting around each other by way of the international language of singing. As if in sympathy, the walls wail and whisper, before starting to move as those on either side of the pod are left stranded, a gulf between them.

This international co-commission between Glasgow Life and the Merchant City Festival, Sydney Harbour Foreshaw Authority in Australia and Urbane Kienste …