Curtain to fall at National Theater

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Norway’s historic National Theater in Oslo faces closure for as long as two years because of a need for major renovations. The building’s facade is in such poor shape that a pedestrian tunnel may be built along its southern wall, to prevent people from being hit on the head by the theater’s crumbling ornamentation.

Norway's National Theater reportedly needs a lot of work. PHOTO: Views and News

Barricades were set up along the wall earlier this month, to keep pedestrians away from the hazardous facade. Newspaper Aftenposten reported Friday that the barricades may be replaced by the pedestrian tunnel.

The 111-year-old National Theater has undergone several earlier rehabilitation projects, not least after a fire in October 1980 that severely damaged its main auditorium. The building, often called “Ibsen’s house” in honor of famed Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, also underwent remodelling in the 1990s when it celebrated its 100th anniversary. The foyer, where the audience assembles at intermission, also has been restored along with its ceiling paintings by Christian Skredsvig.

But now the problems appear to be more serious. “It’s not dangerous to be in the building,” Geir Hagehaugen of state buildings agency Statsbygg told Aftenposten, but a condition report commissioned by the Ministry of Culture last spring has shown a need for “major rehabilitation” after visual inspections of the roof and walls.

“This is just the start,” Hagehaugen cautioned. “We haven’t started opening up walls of floorings yet, that’s the next phase. But work needs to done all over.”

The project is expected to take at least two years and cost at least NOK 100 million, but as with most renovation projects, that amount can quickly rise. Completion of a full condition report and budget approvals means the work may not get underway until 2013, reports Aftenposten, but that would mean the National Theater would be closed during Norway’s bicentennial celebrations in 2014. That may be politically unacceptable.

“At this point there is full agreement that there must be a halt in all activity at the theater during the rehabilitation project,” Hagehaugen said. Theater staff will need to find a new location to hold performances during the period but that’s not viewed as a major problem.

“There are many arenas in Oslo and the surrounding area where it would be possible for us to mount our productions,” Thomas Gunnerud, director of the National Theater, told Aftenposten. He refuses to view the renovation needs as any crisis.

“In the long term, it’s very important for us that the theater is brought up to stand,” he said.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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