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Det Kongelige Teater
Alexandrinsky Theatre
The National Theatre of Scotland
Národní Divadlo

Det Kongelige Teater

Dates: 22 / 10 - 23 / 10 / 11

The history of the public theatre in Denmark reaches the year 1720 when Etienne Capion, a French wine merchant, obtained a permission to establish a theatre for the peoples of Copenhagen. A small stage located in Grønnegade opened on January 20th 1722. Initially, Capion’s company performed mostly contemporary German and French repertory in original languages, later on, in Danish when translations by Rene Montaigu became available. Unfortunately, the venture soon turned out to be a financial flop. Due to mounting debts, Copion was arrested and the theatre closed. In 1728, a fire that ravaged large parts of Copenhagen, did not spare the theatre, either. In 1730, all forms of public entertainment were banned by King Christian VI, an ardent exponent of pietism, who judged them immoral.

Things changed for the better when Frederick V of Denmark succeed to the throne. The young, nearly twenty-three-year-old monarch was a patron of arts and the man of the Enlightenment. Almost instantly upon coming to power, King declared his wish to fund a royal theatre and in 1747 a new company was formed. Since it consisted of only eight actors and four actresses, it was only just able to fill out the roles involved in a revival of Molière’s comedies. Initially, the group did not have a permanent venue and performed in varying locations. The break-through decision to build a new theatre house came on November 11th 1747. Nicolai Eigtved, the royal architect, designed the venue with the seating capacity of eight hundred viewers. The construction works took nearly eighteen months to complete and Det Kongelige Teater (The Royal Theater) eventually opened in Kongens Nytorv (Royal Square) on December 18th 1748.

An author to leave the most profound imprint on the early history of the Royal Theatre was Ludvik Holberg. Born in Norway, he was a leading figure in the Danish Enlightenment–a renowned historian, political thinker and playwright who laid down the foundations for the Danish literary language. In a series of plays written for Capion’s stage, he drew inspiration from Molière and commedia dell’arte, creating a new genre of bourgeois comedy, an intelligent blend of refined humour and trenchant critique of the society.

Det Kongelige Teater very quickly assumed its original profile, i.e. a royal institution which is home to dramatic arts, opera, ballet and symphonic orchestra. Additionally, in 1771 and 1773 a ballet school and opera school were established, respectively. Soon, the increasing popularity of the venue necessitated the enlargement of its premises.

At the end of the 18th century, Copehnhagen was invaded by a plague of rats. In the theatre premises, the rats would rummage in the wings and audience’s balconies and in order to deal with them, the managers of the theatre were forced to bring in an entire legion of cats. This even event has been famously commemorated in the name of the prestigious theatre prize awarded to directors by the Theatre Critics Association: Det Teaterkat (Theatre Cat).

Over the course of the first half of the 19th century, two great playwrights dominated the theatre repertory. Adam Oehleschlaenger, the author of the Danish anthem, nicknamed “the master of Nordic poetry,” wrote quasi-Shakespearean tragedies, in which he took on historical and mythological subjects. Johan Heiberg, on the other hand, was the master of irony. In comedies or vaudevilles, from which he did not shy away, he mocked both a romantic aristocracy of the spirit as well as primitive ambitions of the bourgeois society.

In 1871, a decision to further expand the theatre premises was taken and two outstanding architects, Vilhelm Dahlerup and Ove Petersen, developed the eclectic design of the theatre house of the day. After three years of construction works, the Gamle Scene (the Old Stage) opened on October 15th 1874. Today this venue is home to ballet performances.

On December 21st 1879, the premiere of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House directed by H.P. Holst with landmark performances by Betty Hennings in the role of Nora, and Peter Jerndorff in the role of Doctor Rank made history heralding a breakthrough for naturalistic drama. Despite subsequent changes in the cast, the production remained on the roster until 1907 with one hundred performances given over the course of twenty years.

In the 1880s, naturalism became the dominant theatre style. Its major advocate was an influential director and playwright William Bloch. Drawing on the experience of the German theatre reformists in Meiningen, he pressed ahead with reforms in the Royal Theater, whose aim was to empower the position of directors in theatre. Additionally, in 1886 Bloch opened a new theatre school linked to the Royal Theatre.

At the end of the 19th century, several new public theatres emerged in Copenhagen. However, they focused on presenting mainly vaudevilles and operettas, therefore the stage in Kongens Nytorv managed to keep its monopoly on “high art” repertory.

At the end of the 1920s, Gamle Scene was no longer able to fulfil contemporary expectations; neither did its sumptuous design correspond to modern repertory. Therefore, another decision to expand the theatre’s premises was taken. Nye Scene opened in August 1931 and its design by Holger Jacobsen quickly provoked many controversies. Its angular art-deco tower, which dominates over the Auguste Bournaville’s passage, and the large oval window overlooking the Kongens Nytorv quickly earned it a nickname Saerkassen, “Bird House.” Initially, the building became home to two institutions: a small stage of the Royal Theater and newly established Denmarks Radio. However, due to acoustic interferences, the arrangement soon proved to be unsuccessful and the contract was annulled. The Staerkassen continued to serve as a theatre stage until 2008.

Another landmark event in the history of the Royal Theater took place in 1926 was the visit of Edward Gordon Craig, who came to Cophenhagen to collaborate with Johannsen Paulsen on Henrik Ibsen’s Pretendents. The performance with the sets designed by Craig premiered on November 14th. This artistic event was one of few rare instances when the European artistic avant-garde made its way to Copenhagen. In those days, the Royal Theater was primarily dedicated to presenting works by contemporary Danish playwrights: Kaj Munk, Carl Erik Soya and Kjeld Abell.


It wasn’t only until the WWII that the Theatre’s repertory began to include foreign dramaturgy, mostly British and American: Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter and Edward Albee, as well Jean Anouilhe and Bertolt Brecht. The productions of Brecht’s plays heralded the arrival of a new theatre, one marked by political awareness and social engagement.

In 1961 the management of the Royal Theatre was transferred into the hands of the newly established Ministry of Culture. At the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, the Theatre underwent another string of important reforms. During the management of Michael Christiansen, 1993-2008, the Theatre received two new venues. In 2005, Operaen, a new opera house officially opened on the Holman Island. Designed to accommodate opera and ballet performances as well as symphonic concerts, it was built on a prestigious location–the axis which links the Amalienborg Palace, the winter home of the Danish royal family, and the sumptuous Frederick's Church.

In February 2008, Skuespilhuset became the new national stage for the dramatic arts. The stern design of body of the house made of characteristic brown brick, its waterfront foyer, promenade and footbridge terrace were developed by Lundgaard & Tranberg Arkitekter and won the prestigious RIBA European Award.

Michael Christiansen and his successor, Erik Jacobsen, opened the doors of the Royal Theater to the contemporary theatre avant-garde, by inviting world-renowned artists such as Robert Wilson, Lars Noren, Christoph Marthaler, or Staffen Valdemar Holm. Today, Det Kongelige Teater ranks among the greatest Scandinavian theatres and is one of the most dynamically developing national theatres in Europe.

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This project is supported by the Ministry of Culture
and National Heritage and The City of Warsaw
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