Kardemomme by (Cardamom City) is a book and a play written by the late Thorbjørn Egner. It is set in a fictional city with a camel, a lion, palm trees and a comical cast that suspiciously look like country Norwegians with bad mustaches. It is certainly filled with Norwegianess from the songs, characters and storyline – the villains become the heros. After being thrown in jail for stealing everything but the kitchen sink (as they hate cleaning up) the villains are set free only to help the town put out a fire. In the end they are given jobs as a reward.
This year the Alta kulturskole chose Kardemomme by as the main production and so I was thrown in to choreograph for a Norwegian musical that everyone had grown up with except me. Kardemomme by is well loved and has many standard elements that have never changed. In fact, the author made it clear that the play had to follow its traditional story and characters for it to be performed. This is certainly a challenge when trying to give it a facelift for a new generation. The author even drew pictures and elaborated on stage directions and how scene changes were to be carried out (which is not the done thing in playwriting) so that there was hardly any room for creativity. The story may fit well into a book but as a play it is very lop-sided. A lot of the story-lines don’t lead anywhere and the moral to the story is…er…everyone is inherently good? As a play it is all wrong. But where there is an Australian, there is a way. I think because I didn’t know the story I was able to add in new things without a conscience which, I think, put a fresh spin on things. First thing I had to do was balance out the play with dance and action as everything happened at the beginning. The play is similar to an Australian melodrama so I could put in a lot of action-comedy. I was lucky to have a fun-loving director who let me play with some of the story-lines. For instance, I added in extra characters such as a mime artist, a paperboy and a shoe-shine to add a ‘Broadway’ feel to the play. And for those who know the play: The Tarentella changed into a Halling with kicking hats off poles; when the crooks were getting a haircut in jail from the clarinet-playing barber, they got into a towel-flicking chase; and instead of lighting up a cigarette, the butcher smoked a salmon (it is a thing to see a chase with a balloon-popping salmon!)
The next day the paper gave a rave review – six out of six – saying “The kulturskole’s greatest triumph!” Thorbjørn Egners daughter, Turi Egner Olderheim, attended the opening night. When interviewed straight after the show she said she was “almost lost for words”. She thoroughly enjoyed the show (and she has certainly seen many of them).
As a side story: we are bringing kystgeit to the farm (Norwegian coastal goats that are highly endangered) and when we contacted a zoo keeper I noticed a strange thing – he worked in Kardemomme by! What the? I found out that the zoo where our kystgeit are from has created a Kardemomme by in the zoo with its own post code. Interesting.
It has been fun rehearsing the kids in dance and comedy. The whole process was a great introduction to play-making in Norway. Kardemomme by has certainly made me one step closer to knowing what it means to be Norwegian.
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