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The Ibsen Festival: A Celebration of Norway's greatest playwright

Through exciting performances, discussions, artist encounters, children’s events, and much more, the Ibsen Festival lets us look at Ibsen, humanity, and society in new and different ways. 

Never before has Henrik Ibsen been performed so often in so many different places around the world. Just as Norway’s great playwright broke new ground for what a play could be, his work and ideas break through the barriers between countries and languages. Ibsen is quite simply a global phenomenon, as well as an important trade commodity. “What shall we export when the oil runs dry?” the actor Kåre Conradi once asked rhetorically. “Why, Ibsen, of course.”

During the Ibsen Festival, Ibsen is coming home again – to the National Theatre and Oslo, where his plays are being staged by leading international theatre companies. The programme consists of new productions of high artistic quality, performed in a variety of languages.

The world’s most prestigious theatre award, the International Ibsen Award, will be handed out, and this year’s winner, the British theatre company Forced Entertainment, will be staging three productions.

The Ibsen Festival is not least the venue where our own artists show the world what the Norwegian theatre community has to offer. In that way the Ibsen Festival is an international celebration of Norway’s greatest playwright and his trailblazing work for the theatre and society.

Throughout twenty-eight years, sixteen festivals, and over 300 events and productions by companies from Norway and abroad, the Ibsen Festival has shown us how eternally relevant Ibsen remains. Moreover, the festival has revolutionized the way Ibsen’s plays are staged in his homeland.

“The Ibsen Festival led to the world becoming part of the Norwegian theatre in a new and far stronger way,” noted the Ibsen scholars Frode Helland and Julie Holledge during the 2014 festival. “After the festival’s founding, Ibsen could no longer be performed in the same way anymore.”

Keld Hyldig, an associate professor in theatre studies, made a similar observation during the festival’s twentieth anniversary in 2010. “The Ibsen Festival sparked off a wave of renewal in how to perform Ibsen. The festival has brought to light Ibsen’s international standing. … At the same time, the National Theatre and other institutional Norwegian theatres have become more internationally oriented because of the festival.”

Hyldig also demonstrated how the festival more or less introduced a new type of theatre – the postmodern director’s theatre – to Norway, whereas Ibsen performances in Norway had previously been more actor-oriented. According to Hyldig, the new director-oriented theatre “achieved something of a breakthrough” during the festival in 2004, a trend that was confirmed during the 2006 edition.

And the public is up for it. The festival in 2018 set a new attendance record and confirmed the Ibsen Festival as Norway’s largest and most important theatre festival. This has occurred even as the Ibsen Festival has become even more international, also among spectators: the festival has never had as many international spectators as in 2018.

This year as well, the side programme will turn the festival into a meeting place for visitors of all ages. The programme will feature discussions, lectures, theatrical roundtables, and artist encounters, Ibsen quizzes, Ibsen stunts, and fun events for children – and every night the festival bar will be open.

The 2020 Ibsen Festival opens 4 September and ends 19 September 2020. Join us and paint the town yellow! For any queries concerning the 2020 Ibsen Festival, please contact ibsenfestival2018@nationaltheatret.no.