For decades, the movie industry has been fascinated with making films based on comic books. The most recent examples are Sin City, X-men, Fantastic Four, Batman and Spiderman. Some of these films do justice to the comics they’re attempting to capture, others fail miserably. The world of theatre has been less active in adapting comics for the stage. In Iceland, it has been almost unheard of. However, two performances in Reykjavík this fall were based on comic books. Most people don’t know this, but the American musical Annie actually started off as a comic. The other performance was based on the work of the edgiest comic book artist our nation has ever produced. The play, Forðist okkur (Avoid Us), is an adaptation of the comics by Hugleikur Dagsson. It has been a refreshing breeze in the Icelandic theatre landscape. Or a refreshing punch in the gut, rather.
Forðist okkur was a project by theatre company CommonNonsense and Nemendaleikhúsið. The latter is a group of senior acting students in the Iceland Academy of the Arts. In their last year at the academy, the graduating seniors stage three plays, Forðist okkur being this class’s first play.
Having been a fan of Dagsson’s work for years, I have to admit that I was a bit sceptical prior to seeing the piece. How were they going to build a whole play based on one-liner jokes delivered by stick figures? The answer: Instead of enacting bunch of haphazard wisecracks, the group managed to put together a well-structured play with a beginning, a middle and an end, along with larger-than-life characters who were plausible in their absurdity. The actors thoroughly enjoyed themselves in their roles, drawing the audience into their twisted reality. Last but not least, the performance was very unconventional, no less so than Dagsson’s comics.
To begin with, the play actually started outside of the auditorium in the City Theater, where the audience waited to be let in. After a brief introduction, the audience was invited to attend a young girl’s confirmation, and they were led inside by the actors to be seated on rotating desk chairs, complete with wheels. It was a brilliant solution, considering that the play was set in an arena theatre, so the audience had to be able to turn around to look at different scenes in a 360° circle.
Dagsson’s twisted sense of humour had the audience roaring with laughter, as the characters got messed up on cocaine, had crazy elevator sex and staged rituals to evoke the devil, amongst other things. Some members of the audience were shocked, others were amused, but nobody was left unaffected by the play. Dagsson and the crew behind Forðist okkur managed to draw a picture of today’s alienated society in a tragicomic way. Serious matters such as incest, murder, neglected children, beastiality and drug abuse were all addressed through means that often made the audience laugh, but also left them pondering in silence, and, in some cases, weeping.
Forðist okkur effectively criticized the way we live and behave towards one another. The characters did outrageous, sometimes revolting things, but none of it was implausible. The overt grotesqueness of Forðist okkur served as a poignant reminder that the world is far from being a pretty place, but we can choose how we spend our time in it. Unfortunately, the play will no longer be running when this article is printed, but it was too good of a show not to write about it. Hugleikur’s comics, many of which originally appeared in the Grapevine, are available throughout Iceland, in English and Icelandic.