Theatre in Norway during World War II, 1940-1945(182)
April 8, 1940, Norwegian theatres were in full activity. April 9, all venues were closed. The German invasion, and later occupation, of Norway, greatly influenced Norwegian theatre. The Germans were aware of the power of culture, and swiftly established regulations and censorship procedures for Norwegian theatre activity.
This gallery contains images, posters and playbills from productions performed in Norway during World War II. It also includes images of central persons, both from the resistance and among Nazis. An overview of repertoires at theatres during this time can be found in the entries of the theatres. Take a look at the list of productions from 1940-1945. You may also search for "2nd World War" in the lfet menue.
As soon as active combat was over, the theatres reopened, mostly with a repertoire consisting of light entertainment, not to provoke the occupants. Chat Noir was first, performing the revue Kom til Chat Noir* (Come to Chat Noir) as soon as April 17. The next day, Centralteatret and Carl Johan Teatret opened, with the comedies Baldevin's Wedding and The Girl in the Limousine respectively. They were followed by The National Theatre April 26, with Peer Gynt, The National Stage May 3, with the operetta The Yankee Princess, The Norwegian Theatre May 9, with the comedy Godvakker-Maren* (Good Pretty Maren), Det Nye Teater (literally: The New Theatre) May 13, with the comedy Hvis jeg hadde penger* (If I had money) and Komediateatret May 17, with the comedy Like barn leker best* (Similar children play best together).
At Trøndelag Theatre, however, the tone was different. The theatre opened May 21, with the freshly written Co-optimistenes kabaret-revy* (The co-optimists' cabaret revue). The revue contained topical and controversial content, with references to the occupants. This was the first statements against the Germans from the head of the theatre at the time, Henry Gleditsch. During the next year and a half, Gleditsch continued to defend the theatres' freedom of expression and other rights.
As soon as the summer of 1940, all theatre productions were under police surveillance, and censored by Germans. Public statements considered as disturbing the public order were not permitted. The theatres were sorted beneath the Nazi ministry of culture and public information, which was established September 25, 1940, and operated for the rest of the occupation.
At this time, theatre was considered as an important cultural field, also in Germany. Thus, it was important to keep theatres running, even if only to legitimise the powerful position of the Norwegian National Socialist party, called Nasjonal Samling (NS), in Norwegian society. Its hold of the Norwegian cultural field grew increasingly strict, and July 1, 1941, the national directorate for theatres was founded, establishing full control of Norwegian theatres. All events, texts and employment had to be pre-approved. All employees had to have work permits, and members of the National Socialist party watched rehearsals.
There is little to indicate that NS required the theatres to perform Nazi propaganda. Thus, the repertoire was not what caused the most problems for the theatres during the war. Most of them continued their activity mostly as before, with a repertoire of comedies and operettas. The Norwegians were, however, clever in developing ambiguous spoken lines. One of few politically charged plays performed was Finn Bø's satire Halmstrået eller Teatersjefen som ble vekk* (The straw or The disappeared head of the theatre). The play was, however, only performed the first months of the war, until the ministry of culture and public information was established towards the end of September 1940.
Theatre conflicts, May 1941 - October 1942
In Norway, actors were the first professional groups to get into conflict with the Germans. This happened due to strict restrictions the first year of occupation. The conflict was primarily about actors at The National Theatre, who refused to accept broadcasting assignments. Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation was under NS control, and actors were required to accept broadcasting assignments during their spare time, to read Nazi propaganda. A resistance group at The National Theatre fronted the opposition. Actors who refused were denied work permits. This situation led to an actor strike, starting May 21, 1941, in Oslo, and the next day in Bergen and Trondheim. 15 actors and elected spokesmen for them were arrested, including Harald Schwenzen, Georg Løkkeberg, Sverre Næss, Hans Stormoen, Ole Grepp, Henki Kolstad, Erik Melbye Brekke, Rolf Christensen and Leif Juster.
Terboven personally fronted this work. He wanted to break down all resistance with power, and he threatened with strict punishments, including death penalties. The actors entered negotiations with Germans, accepting to return to work on the condition that the arrested were released. The Germans refused to negotiate and demanded unconditional capitulation. This, they got. The arrested were eventually released.
During the winter of 1941, theatre managers had been in several conflicts with the occupants, due to the occupants' wish to mix their politics into the theatre's activity. The managers supported the actors during the actor strike in May and June 1941, by closing down May 22, and refusing to apply for a permit to run, as NS demanded. The conflict ended when the board and management of The National Theatre were arrested and the NS member Gustav Berg-Jæger was instated as head of the theatre. The decision led to an audience boycott of the theatre.
The occupants' censorship and control of Norwegian theatre continued, and October 7, 1942, the head of Trøndelag Theatre, Henry Gleditsch was executed. NS instated the Nazi Johan Barclay-Nitter as the new head of the theatre after the execution of Gleditsch. The Norwegian audience then boycotted the theatre.
Gleditsch's friend Knut Hergel, who headed The Norwegian Theatre in Oslo, held an eulogy over Gleditsch later the same month, in which he also expressed his opinion of the execution. This caused him to have to flee to Sweden, and he crossed the border the night between October 20 and 21. NS instated the Nazi Cally Monrad as head of The Norwegian Theatre.
The last years
Norwegian audiences boycotted the three theatres under NS control, which greatly affected the theatre's economy. October 19, 1944, Trøndelag Theatre had to close, and December 13, The Norwegian Theatre followed. At The National Theatre, several actors had also left the theatre, and January 19, 1945, the theatre had to close due to poor economy.
As far as we know, only these three theatres were headed by people instated by the Nazis. Other theatres were subject to censorship, but audiences came to see the productions, and they were far better off economically than the theatres controlled by NS.
Deutsches Theater im Norwegen
The German established their own, publicly owned opera in Oslo. Deutsches Theater, or The National Theatre's new stage, as it was also called, was established as a propaganda measure to win the affection of the Norwegian people through the dissemination of German culture. The order to establish the theatre was given by Josef Terboven January 1, 1941, after discussions with propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. The first production was performed at The National Theatre's stage April 22, 1941. June 7, 1941, Deutsches Theater im Norwegen opened its own venue, located in Stortingsgata 16, the former home of Casino Theatre. The opening performance was the operetta The Land of Smiles. All the musicians at the theatre were Norwegian, whereas the soloists had been brought from Germany.
Deutsches Theater im Norwegen was closed in 1944, as the German costs of war led to savings on everything considered a luxury. The German artists who had been connected to the theatre were moved to the front or back to Germany.
Norway was liberated May 8, 1945, and the national theatre directorate and the Nazi ministry of culture and public information were immediately shut down.
The National Stage was the first theatre to open its doors after liberation. It opened May 12, with the Italian opera The Troubadour by Verdi. This was what had been rehearsed at the time, and the theatre did not have anything more appropriate ready for performance. Despite being a high-quality production, the head of the theatre was criticised for the choice.
May 16, Det Nye Teater (literally: The New Theatre) opened with the world premiere of Gunnar Heiberg's comedy Kjærlighet til nesten* (Neighbourly love). Centralteatret did not want to continue the run of the production it had performed since early March. It closed May 7, and opened May 17, with the newly written revue Festprogram mai 1945* (Gala program May 1945). The same day, The Norwegian Theatre opened with its poetry production 17. mai 1945* (May 17, 1945). In the playbill, the Norwegian text for Elias Blix' national hymn God Bless Our Precious Homeland was printed. In the playbill, one can also see a list of the Norwegian poems performed.
June 7, Carl Johan Teatret opened with the revue Faren over* (Danger over), with newly written texts by Fridtjof Mjøen and Egil Hagen. The National Theatre opened June 8, with the first part of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's Sigurd the Bad. Trøndelag Theatre wasn't able to reopen before October 2, with its premiere of Ibsen's Lady Inger.
Komediateatret in Bergen was closed shortly after the liberation of Norway, when it turned out that its head, Lars Nygard, was a member of NS. He had kept this a secret to his staff throughout the war. The theatre reopened eleven months later, headed by Alv Hordnes, with the drama Kven dømer* (Who judges) April 10, 1946.
During World War II, there was a special underground movement within Norwegian theatre in the capital, as The Norwegian Actors' Equity Association's subdivision for young actors worked with Stanislavski's system.The company usually met at Jens Bolling's home. He and Liv Strømsted had taken the initiative to the work. They had worked regularly during the years of the war, and were ready to launch the new Studioteatret after the liberation of Norway.Studioteatret was an important signal that a new generation of theatre artists could now express themselves freely after five years of occupation. The working methods and acting style of the company, based on Stanislavski's system, became dominating in Norwegian theatre after the war. This also later laid the foundation for The National Academy of Theatre.
*Not yet translated into the English. The title within parentheses is the Norwegian title's literal meaning.