As Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre presents its second British premiere ofa European play within one month, Andrew Burnet talks to the Danish director

of Hour Of

The Lynx about questions ofidentity, quirks of speech and quantum physics.

5 The List 27 July ‘) {\ugUst 1990

our Of The Lynx is a three-person play whose main character is a cat. ‘He’s never seen, but talked about a lot,’ says the play’s Danish director Kim Dambaek, whose long-standing enthusiasm to direct a play by the leading Swedish dramatist Per Olov Enquist will at last be realised next month at the Traverse. ‘The real cat Enquist wrote about is called August after Strindberg and was lying against his typewriter as he wrote the play,’ he explains.

The play’s human drama centres on a youth (played by Simon Donald) who has been convicted ofcrimes ofviolence. and has become the subject ofa psychiatric experiment in a state mental institution. He is so intent on suicide after two years’ treatment that his psychiatrist turns to an old friend in the Church for guidance. ‘She doesn’t know how to help this boy, so she calls in a pastor. hoping she might crack through to this case, but something totally different happens. The pastor’s life is changed by the experience.’

Dambaek is unwilling to reveal the nature ofthe play’s development since it is, he says, ‘a mystery in more ways than one’. Like an Agatha Christie, it contains a scattering of clues. but leaves no loose ends untied in the final analysis. Unlike Miss Marple. however, the pastor has more profound questions to tackle than who poisoned Lord Bradley.

“Enquist is keen on investigating the destructive and creative powers of love in all its fine shadings,’ says Dambaek. ‘I suppose it’s one of the great challenges of most writers to try and define love. It’s also an existentialist play in that he is asking “What am I doing here?", “Who am I?" and all those questions. I know that he wrote it at a bad time. He was living in Paris and I think he just felt totally out of place there. Paris wasn’t good for him as a person. but I’m sure it paid its dividends as a writer, because it pressed this play out ofhim.‘

A central theme of the play, explains Dambaek, is the purity of deeply held belief. ‘As the boy tells the pastor the story of what he‘s been through, something ofthe miracle that she has been preaching for eight years is made clear for her in a way that she’s never understood before. It’s religious in the way that something like the Polish film director Kieslowski‘s Dekalog is religious. It's about fundamental truths which aren’t Church-religious. (although Enquist comes from a very fundamentalist Christian background). but I suppose it‘s about commitment to beliefs and the passion that goes with that.‘

I suggest that the play‘s setting. its themes and central relationships invite comparison with Peter Shaffer‘s Equits, but Dambaek denies any real similarity. ‘As far as I remember there was a fascination there which was sexual. That‘s not the case here at all. What happens in this play is like an awakening ofquite a mature person who thinks that she knows herself.

‘What we‘ve also brushed shoulders with in the rehearsal period is quantum physics. The whole classical concept of cause and effect doesn’t really hold water there. and we can‘t just understand something by saying, “well. ifthat’s that. then that must be that". Life isn‘t as easy as that; it’s much more complex. That‘s what fascinates the writer. He's looking at the human psyche and saying, “well. no. things don’t always happen like that; but why did it happen?”

Another area explored in the play is the conflict

between individualism and conformity, a theme crucral to Sweden’s culture. ‘Enquist was brought up in that great social-democratic post-war

Scandinavian socialism.‘ says Dambaek. ‘They‘ve managed to balance the books very well between welfare state and a social norm. but it‘s got its drawbacks. You have a very high quality of living. but at the same time you feel that you are being looked after by the state. and I think the greatest frustration Scandinavians feel is that levelling-out ofindividualism.

So on one level. the state institution in which the three characters meet may stand as a metaphor for the oppressive conformity of Swedish society. ‘It’s not spelt out clearly in the way ofpolitical theatre.” says Dambaek. ‘but I think it is there. Enquist is also a journalist. and has been very much involved in the debates in the Swedish press about cultural life in Sweden. He also did the screenplay for Pelle The Conqueror. and that story is also a kind of heroic championing of the individual.‘

Working as both translator and director brought Dambaek both rewards and drawbacks. ‘There is another translation.~ he says. ‘which is into American and I wasn‘t very happy with it. It was very literal, and it seemed like a draft which one