From Iceland — An Enlightening Night

An Enlightening Night

An Enlightening Night

Published August 10, 2007

Kristín Magnús has been running her company Travelling Theatre for over 40 years, taking shows all over the U.S. and the U.K. and receiving solid reviews throughout. Since 1970, she has been the driving force behind what has become something of a legend here in Reykjavík, the ‘Light Nights’ theatre show. That’s a long run for one show. It’s had its fair share of re-development, evolving from a one-hander to now featuring a cast of seven. Designed as a tourist show, it features Icelandic folklore, stories from the Sagas, histories, and some traditional dance and music. It is one of very few theatre pieces performed here in English, pleasantly accessible to the foreign market during the summer season. That said, it’s one of the only theatre shows that actually gets a run during the summer as all of the major companies are on vacation. The show is performed on Monday and Tuesday nights until the end of August. I managed to get myself a ticket and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
‘Iðnaðarmannahúsið’, more simply Iðnó, is a fitting home for this charming piece. Originally housing Iceland’s first theatre company back in 1897, the recently restored building gives a sense of time and tradition, which is what the show is really all about – giving the tourists a slice of traditional Iceland. There is a great quote in the program from the 1890s: “On entering the house, one literally forgets that the building is in Reykjavík. I have not measured the dimensions of the hall but I doubt that there is anything like it anywhere else in the city”. Once you’ve seen this room you can really appreciate the size of Iceland back then, and how important it must have been to carry these stories through the ages.
The show opens with a generic folk dance. I later learned that it is taught to school kids all over Iceland to this day. Then, with introductions and narration by Kristín, the cast bring various stories and traditions to life. A note to anyone interested in seeing the show: bring a local. They will be able to give you a running commentary on how important this stuff is to Icelandic culture. It’s too easy to look at the pretty pictures and not think about it. These stories are old. They’ve been with Iceland for hundreds of years and are part of every child’s education. The story of the Night Troll, Álfkona, the Sealwoman, the Deacon of Myrká, are all great little stories and told here in a clear accessible style.
Interspersed between the stories are audiovisual presentations about Icelandic history, volcanic activity, nature and so forth. Although slightly incongruous, they offer a healthy respite from the live storytelling.
Light Nights is no groundbreaking theatre, some of the segues could be tightened – the back story featuring Landsbankinn CEO Björgólfur Guðmundsson is probably lost to a foreign audience – but the performances are genuine and I came out entirely charmed by the experience. This is old style storytelling, good old-fashioned theatre. It is designed for a specific audience, but I actually believe that the odd Icelander might benefit from seeing this show.
For a warm, home-made night out, go visit Light Nights,

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