REVIEW: Skugga Baldur, Debbie Liebenberg, Prague Film & Theater Center, 30/3/2016

“Blue foxes are so curiously like stones that it is a matter for wonder. When they lie beside them in the winter there is no hope of telling them apart from the rocks themselves; indeed, they’re far trickier than white foxes, which always cast a shadow or look yellow against the snow…the creature must take care not to forget that the man is a hunter.”

While these words set the stage for the opening scene they also repeat throughout the play to show the audience how fragile and precious life is and how easily it can be taken for granted or eliminated entirely.

While the audience first meets with an almost empty stage the few items that are present – one actress, one box and one screen – will magically transform into a harrowing tale that takes place in the cold and cruel Icelandic winter landscape in 1883.

The story tells the tale of four main characters:
Abba, a young girl with Down Syndrome, the hip academic professor Fridrik Fridjonsson. the reverent and huntsman, Baldur Skuggason and the elusive blue fox. In a jumbled time sequence, actress Tereza Hofová brilliantly portrays each of these characters (and others) with great talent, emotion and attention to detail.

The first scene emulates the tension felt as a huntsman stalks his prey, a rare blue fox, through the desolate and unforgiving Icelandic planes. This little vixen is aware of her hunter and they dart and dash through the snow until there is only a bullet between them. Hofová embodies both the fox and the huntsman through snowstorms, thoughts and theories throughout the performance.

The dance between the innocent fox and the merciless huntsman is quite profound as it mimics the dance between good and evil, sanity and insanity and ultimately the inevitable dance between life and death.

After the fox hunt the audience is taken back in time to the funeral of Abba. While Abba is dead now we learn that Fridrik, the naturalist who likes to indulge in opium at parties, rescued the young girl when she was found chained to an abandoned cargo ship. Hofová again transforms herself from a scared girl in a wooden box to a rambling academic at a party. She reveals the life they shared through use of emotive video montages, evocative sounds and props that not only show what the characters see and experience but also what they might feel.

We learn of the ancient Icelandic practises of killing down syndrome babies at birth we realise how rare it must be for Abba to survive this killing at this time, we realise how rare Abba is, rare as a blue fox and just as easily subjected to the cruelty of man.

While the relationship between Fridrik and Abba is one of mutual respect and care, it is Fridrik who discovers and exposes the cruelty that Abba experienced before he found her. The cruelty that Abba experienced, just like the little fox is linked to the huntsman.

The final scene brings us back to the huntsman and the rare blue fox. The huntsman has been trapped in the mountains with nothing but old songs, dead fish and the blue fox to help him keep what’s left of his sanity. The huntsman, once a reverent, begins a conversation with the fox about electricity. Being a man of god the huntsman argues that electricity is to be shunned as a material god but the fox tries to offer a different perspective. Unfortunately, the fox’s perspective is not even worth hearing as the huntsman believes that he is not only able to explain light, but he is also able to take it away.

Darkness, the hunter, evil wins again.

To say the performance of this play was haunting, simply does not do justice. It must be seen to be believed.

Skugga Baldur is a Czech-Icelandic Theatre project based on the novel by the celebrated Icelandic writer Sjón. While the original novel is very short its poetic language is pregnant with meaning and imaginative illustrations. This performance portrays the harsh Icelandic landscapes and ethics of the time through use of central European theatre tradition as well as Icelandic narrative and myth creating tradition.