National Theater needs a facelift

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The leader of Norway’s National Theater is making a passionate appeal for a massive rehabilitation of the venerable building that opened in 1899. Anne Enger has gone from fighting against Norway’s membership in the European Union to fighting for the survival of a national landmark.

Norway's National Theater in Oslo opened in 1899 and is in need of a major upgrade. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Norway’s National Theater in the heart of Oslo opened in 1899 and is in need of a major upgrade. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Enger, former head of the farmer-friendly Center Party who led the anti-EU movement in the 1990s, later became Norway’s Minister of Culture in a coalition government. Now she leads the board of the historic theater known as “Ibsen’s home,” and claims “it’s falling apart before our very eyes.”

In a commentary printed in Monday’s Aftenposten, Enger pleads for a massive renovation of the building located in the heart of Oslo. She claims the theater is “itself the cultural heart of the nation,” and needs total rehabilitation to turn it into a “future-oriented” theater.

It was already too small when construction began on the National Theater in 1892, Enger concedes. It initially had one major stage, Hovedscenen, and was the workplace for around 100 theater employees. Today, the theater has three stages, after the additions of Amfiscenen and Malersalen, in addition to an auxiliary site at Torshov, north of downtown. The need to improve and further expand facilities, though, has persisted for years, Enger claims, “but not even after a fire in 1980 was the entire building modernized.”

Renovations have been carried out over the years, not least in the 1990s before the theater celebrated its 100th anniversary. But Enger argues they’ve been piecemeal and inadequate. She’s now advocating a major expansion of the existing site, adding facilities by digging below the building, even though the city’s main subway and train tunnels run there.

“The theater’s board wants a thriving and future-oriented theater within the existing building, which is located at one of the country’s most important transit hubs,”she wrote. “And we want more life within this unique building.”

The state is currently immersed in several other major projects just a few years after opening the new Opera House at Bjørvika. Construction has begun on a new National Museum a few blocks away from the National Theater, ground was broken for a new main library at Bjørvika and plans have been approved for a new Munch Museum also at Bjørvika. Enger knows she’s competing for funding in the wake of other cultural landmarks but she’s undaunted: “We can afford to fix up our National Theater,” she insists, with costs running from an estimated NOK 1 billion for a major upgrade of the existing building to NOK 5 billion for a completely new theater complex.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund