The National Theater presents En julefortelling

A Christmas story that touches your heart

Photo: Erika Hebbert / Nationaltheatret
Veteran actress Anne Krigsvoll stars as Ebenezer Scrooge in her last role at Norway’s National Theater.

Tove Andersson
Oslo

It’s snowing on the stage, and grandparents with grandchildren full of anticipation are going to see the Christmas performance En julefortellingA Christmas Carol—at Nationaltheatret, Norway’s National Theater in Oslo. It is a new rendition of the famous play by Charles Dickens with its own special Norwegian twist.

Adding to the excitement, in the lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge, is the beloved actress Anne Krigsvoll. With this production, she is appearing in her last role before retirement, after having been associated with the National Theater since 1982.

Dickens’ Christmas classic serves as a reminder of our humanity in the middle of the Christmas season.

Breathtaking beauty

The production was designed for children age 6 and older and is very visual—the scenography simply takes one’s breath away.

At the opening scene, the stage is shrouded in a magical dream veil. Christmas carols start with a spooky atmosphere, and the costumes are colorful. About this, set designer Katja Ebbel has said, “More is more is the key word for the whole project.”

We all know the story. It’s Christmastime, but in the office of the elderly moneylender Ebenezer Scrooge, it’s an annoying time of year, because people are asking for money to buy gifts for charity. Scrooge is grumpy through and through.

Scrooge is also a little modern in this version of the play. He brutally claims that his miserly greed prevents an “overpopulation of the earth.” In this vein, a coffin on the stage illustrates how it can go for one in life.

Right from the start, Anne Krigsvoll proves herself to be up to the part of the miserly old man.

“I didn’t think that Scrooge had a woman’s voice,” said Alida, age 11. “For me, it’s most important how the actors act.” She thought it was particularly funny that Scrooge slept standing up, enveloped by all his accounting ledgers.

Making choices in life

As in the original play, Christmas celebrations of the past, present, and future unfold before us. The story is about making the right choices in life.

Ebenezer Scrooge chose his love for money when he was young man and only realizes when it is too late that he made the wrong choice. But now, he has the opportunity to choose again and put things right.

In this new production, children play the parts of Ebenezer and his girlfriend, Isabella, of the past. Scrooge’s assistant, Bob Cratchit, is played by Jan Gunnar Røise (who is being seen in the political TV series Makta these days). These three spirits in their lavish costumes show Scrooge the way and put him in his place with kindness and love.

The message of En julefortelling is made clear to the children in the audience. The performance offers humor at the beginning, but it is characterized by a cross and grumpy Scrooge. Humor helps things along. By letting his family, especially the children, take a large place in the performance, sympathy can be created for Scrooge. It becomes easier to understand the old misanthrope and to feel empathy with him. Everything is held together by the Christmas carols the audience hears throughout, including “O jul med din glede” and a Christmas carol in tango beat.

Photo: Erika Hebbert / Nationaltheatret
The miserly old man Scrooge sleeps standing up, enveloped by his accounting ledgers in the creatively colorful production of En julefortelling, a Norwegian adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Hitting the mark

Reviews for the play have been mixed.The Norwegian National Broadcasting Corporation, NRK, wrote that Anne Krigsvoll is “a joy when she is ugly.” NRK gave her a top 5-star rating and writes that En julefortelling hits the mark.

The newspaper Vårt land, however, perceived that there is a lot of fluff and external effects that take away from getting to the core of Dickens’ beautiful story about empathy and compassion and writes that the result is “more burlesque than Christmas tea.”

But ultimately, children are perhaps the best reviewers of family shows.

“I really liked the performance,” said 14-year-old Nathalie.

En julefortelling is a play that succeeds, because “you leave it wanting to change the world, you need to overcome your selfishness,” says dad Michael.

In addition, we heard a mother exclaim that she had tears in the corner of her eye on the way out.

“It hit me right in the heart,” said a kindly grandfather.

Scrooge strikes again

At the same time as the play is being performed, Scrooge—or rather budget cuts—have hit Nationaltheatret. Manager Kristian Seltun does not hide the fact that they are in a serious situation as the theater is about to cut NOK 20 million from its budget.

But leading actress Krigsvoll takes it all in stride. “After all, it should be a bit turbulent in a theater,” she said to Klassekampen, quoting the great Norwegian poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: “But peace is not the best thing; you need to want something.”

Some critics have pointed out that En julefortelling is a performance relevant to our time, making us “long for the good” in life.

For my part, I enjoyed this play thoroughly and felt that this message of goodness and love came across clearly. The wonderful scenography lifted the sadness of the times portrayed on stage and in our lives today. Most importantly, in the end, a child is saved by Scrooge’s kindness—as it should be in any Christmas story.

This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Tove Andersson

Tove Andersson is a freelance journalist who writes about travel and culture. She conducts interviews for the street magazine Oslo while writing poetry and fiction. Jeg heter Navnløs (My name is nameless) was published in 2020. Her website is www.frilanskatalogen.no/frilanstove, and she can be reached at tove.andersson@skrift.no.