THE BLUE MAN : reviews

On the heights with The Blue Man

Summer 1907. A lung-diseased Edvard Grieg is preparing for the end of his life. The treatment meted out to him by his Doctor Grønvold includes doses of opium. The composer’s condition swings from moments of searing insight the one moment to hallucinations in the next. His fight is against the immediate loss of dignity as well as for his reputation. And it is while he is in these delirious states that she appears, Alexandra, who died when one year old, but now assumes the form of a young woman.  

Or it could equally well be his own works that speak to the composer through these visions. Was I good enough? Will my life’s work disappear at my death?

His loving wife, Nina, cares for the needs of her dying husband, in tandem with his doctor, a figure acutely and arrogantly aware of his professional standing. He regards it as fitting that he will oversee the demise of the great composer. Into this situation runs the barefoot Australian pianist Percy Grainger. He is of the opinion that, not only is Grieg not ready to give up conducting, far less ready to die, but that he should prepare for a concert in the autumn in Leeds.

It is this narrative that fascinated Andrew Boyle when he started on this project three years ago. Something for which Fredrikstad’s cultural audience should be grateful. For at times this was really a riveting piece of work. And my own previous scepticism about a mix of music and drama was put to shame. The ensemble had fashioned a performance that, after it was over, left the viewer with the impression of having experienced something complete and whole. And here credit must go to director Kristina Kjeldsberg.

There are impressive achievements across the board, from a clean and stylish scenography to beautiful song performances and heartfelt acting. The interaction of Terje Brevik as Grieg and Mads H. Jørgensen as Grainger held the audience gripped.

But there were no mediocre elements here at all, and that is not often the case with a new work for theatre and contemporary music. And all the more enjoyable for it. Indeed, the music of Nordensten, so dynamically rendered by some of the region’s finest musicians, was for this reviewer perhaps the most positive surprise of the whole evening.


Bjørn B. Olsen

Fredriksstads Blad,  1 March 2001


Carry Grieg to the summit

[Photo of the two main actors]  The interaction between these actors is electric. Terje Brevik and Mads H. Jørgensen helped to ‘carry’ The Blue Man to ethereal heights.

The first question this reviewer must ask himself after the performance is this: How on earth could 94 years pass before someone put this extraordinary story into words and music?! There is enough natural drama in this narrative to get us – well, to Bergen and back, you might say. And once that question has been raised, we also must conclude: It is wonderful that it is happening here!

The story of Edvard Grieg’s last days seems to lend itself easily to the genre of musical theatre. Right at the end of his life our national musical icon experienced a revival of his spirit and energy, and it is this that is at the crux of the drama. Grieg’s Australian friend, the composer Percy Grainger, makes a barnstorming entrance into the quiet life at Troldhaugen, bringing new life and hope to the dying composer. Not everyone is equally glad for that turn of events. Grieg’s doctor, for instance (played by Morten Milde with a fine-tuned sense of the doctor’s arrogance), opposes this disruption to his plans for the composer’s demise. For, at this point, Grieg is balancing on the precipice. He has lost faith in his life’s work, he has no offspring to carry his line into the future, and his emphysema makes each day more difficult. This is the starting point for the drama and, in a stroke of genius, we are immediately witnesses to a discussion of the details of Grieg’s will and testament.

Terje Brevik has the role of the composer, and through a mastery of every nuance of body language, conveys the man’s struggle for self-belief and love. This reviewer has seen him in several previous roles, but none which has given his talents so much to play with. This is the first time I have experienced him so focused and gripping. Some of the credit must, of course, go to make-up specialist Helena von Bergen (incidentally, an appropriate name for a Grieg drama). Brevik simply becomes the sick and aging Grieg.

The interplay Brevik has with Mads H. Jørgensen also helps to bring out the very best of both of them. They carry each other to new summits – literally, in one scene! – and we can sit back and think: What a thrill to watch professionals in action!

A production of this calibre is the product of an enormous investment of resources. From Fredrikstad’s Aula a new theatre has been fashioned for the occasion, and filled with new music – in this alone Klassisk i Fredrikstad has excelled all its previous achievements.

Tore Østvold

Demokraten 1 March 2001