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Södra teatern

The history of the house

Södra Teatern is presented with its second Gold Dragon Culture Award. This time with the motivation “The entire world doesn’t fit into Stockholm, incredibly, its sitting inside a venue! A venue where forward thinking integration – and a clear equal opportunities policy slinks its way in -between drinks, where the difference between fun and culture is completely washed away”. West Africa was a major highlight in our repertoire this year, bringing to Stockholm some of the regions biggest artists. Furthermore, this year saw the dawning of the exalted burlesque fleshpot,”Hootchy Kootchy Club”!

Jane Birkin performed to a sold-out audience on the main stage, Emir Kusturica and The No Smoking Orchestra had the entire audience rocking to an unza-unza beat and Zap Mama gave a concert that reviews deemed one of the year’s best. As one of the first theatres in Sweden, we presented hip-hop theatre with Danny Hoch from New York and Jonzi D from London. This year, Södra Teatren also expanded its touring activities.

The legendary Sparks gave their first concert in Sweden in 27 years – exclusively for Södra Teatern. “A small masterpiece”… raved DN. Egypt’s pop king Hakim made his first appearance in Scandinavia. At Re:Orientfestivalen in June, one of Turkey’s all-time greatest singers – icon and diva Bülent Ersoy – gave two fabulous concerts.

Södra Teatern opened the stage to a number of radical artists that charged up the music with ideology. The themed arrangement Rhythm of Resistance caught the attention of both the public and the press. Both lectures and concerts were used to discuss the idea of music and resistance – what is political music today? Participating artists included Linton Kwesi Johnson and Femi Kuti.

The manager of Södra Teatern at the time, Ozan Sunar, received DN’s Gulddrake (Gold Dragon Culture) award. “He does what many others talk about – he captures ethnic, artistic and sexual identities and expressions and presents them in a brilliantly colourful program on Södran’s stages. He runs a pleasure palace with an intellectual bite; a civic-minded Stockholm stage. The breadth of selection cannot be rivalled.”. Sweden’s only bar with lectures on psychoanalysis, Freuds Bar, was founded and became a hit.

Södran started a project with artists and lectures in which the term identity was examined socially, politically, ethnically and in terms of gender. The work was titled “Etno-Porno-Gender-Bender-Multi-Kulti-Queer-Party!”. Participants included Marc Almond and controversial Rockbitch. A little later that year, a large event with a theme of Romany culture was held, with appearances by stars such as singer Vera Bila. Södra Teatern was awarded Radio Stockholm’s Eva prize: “with an energetic blend of renewal, variety and unpredictability that made Stockholm entertainment both broader and sharper”.

Kägelbanan was opened for artistic activities and music was also in focus on the main stage. Some of the highlights were Cesaria Evora – the barefoot diva from Cape Verde, two solo appearances by Nick Cave and a showcase with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Södra Teatern’s boxes, heavy drapes and gold leaf now feel more and more like Stockholm’s best site for lively rock music that is not too loud and doesn’t force you to dance,” wrote Expressen.

On assignment from Riksteatern (The National Touring Theatre of Sweden) and Kulturdepartementet (now the Ministry of Education, Research and Culture), the man behind Re:Orientfestivalen, Ozan Sunar, was given the task of blowing some life into the building, making Södran into a national and international guest performance stage for dance, music, theatre and lectures. This was the start of a new epoch in the theatre’s history.

Georg Malvius became artistic leader and undertook a close partnership with Operan and Folkteatern. Malvius also set up many of his own productions during his time at the theatre. In 1991, a large crowd flocked to Södran to see Lennart Hjulström’s dramatisation of Jan Fridegård’s “Porten kallas trång”. In 1980, the Riksteatern’s production of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” with talents such as Keve Hjelm received great attention. The following year, Ebbe Carlson took over the role of manager.

The Old Vic Theatre Company from London gave a well attended guest performance of Hamlet. During intermission, the guests could enjoy a glass of wine in the newly renovated foyer.

Proteatern had Södran as its home stage from 1968 and 1971. Paul Foster’s “Tom Paine” and Arnold Wesker’s “Prima liv” were just two of the hits. Mosebacke Etablissement, which is under private ownership, opened in Södra Teatern’s old restaurant kitchen and offered events such as song nights.

Södra Teatern was reopened. Renovations and modernisations were finished gradually. The wooden benches were replaced with red velvet seats and the theatre received a new curtain that was a replica of the old one. Teater- och musikrådet was in charge of the theatre and Lennart Ahlbom was appointed manager.

In consultation with KF, city planners decided that the building that housed Södra Teatern was to be torn down. Evert Taube became so upset that he started a protest movement with the goal of saving Södran. But the future of Södra Teatern looked dark. To make matters worse, a disastrous fire destroyed parts of the building. It was now apparent that a lot of money would be needed to renovate the theatre. There was only one body who had those kinds of resources – the government.

After 20 good years, Södra Teatern’s revue era was over. The audience went elsewhere and times got tough. The building owner, KF, rented out the premises to Sveriges Radio, which planned to use it to tape various TV shows. But, the theatre proved to be too rundown. Södra Teatern faced an uncertain future…

Businessman, cinema king and revue master Anders Sandrew took over the reins from Gustaf Wallenberg. Södra Teatern focused on revues. Even though the artists were excellent, it was definitely no bull’s-eye. The first hit came in 1951. The revue “Tillsammans igen” played 235 times and was set up again a mere two years later.

Gustaf Wallenberg became manager of Södra Teatern. He set up the revue “Uppåt väggarna”, which became Nils Poppe’s big break. But “Wally” proved to be a crafty businessman. He cheated the building owner out of some of the profits and ended up in court.

The World War changed the world. Horse-drawn carriages were replaced by cars and people wanted entertainment à la Paris. It took a few years of half-successful revues before Södran found its own style. Writer Kar de Mumma and popular artists such as Thor Modéen and Sickan Carlsson kept Södran’s revues in the public’s heart.

The revue locale was spiffed up with paintings by promising artist Isaac Grünewald. The theatre restaurant became known as one of the best in the city. Popular writer Norlander continued to write revues for Södran, but the competition, Folkan, attracted more people. Everyone wanted to see their new star – Karl-Gerhard.

The theatre was re-opened after being closed for remodelling. After a few unsuccessful performances, the new playwright, former dentist Emil Norlander, switched from full-evening revues to independent numbers. The big breakthrough for Södra Teatern’s new revue style was “Stockholmsluft” in 1905. Even the royal family saw the revue – several times!

When Parliament felt the audience drank too much alcohol, fought and were generally promiscuous at the city theatres, a revue ban was implemented. Liquor was prohibited and guests were no longer allowed to sit at set tables during the performances. Instead, they had to make do with benches. The audience stopped coming and Södra Teatern closed its doors for remodelling in 1898.

The cold winds of death swept over Södra Teatern. Revue artist and heartthrob Victor Rolla, who used to entertain the audience on the terrace by skydiving from a gas-filled balloon, happened to forget his parachute one day. The balloon rose and disappeared behind the clouds. To the great sadness of the ladies, Rolla’s lifeless body was found outside of Ljusterö.

Industrialisation caused Stockholm entertainment to blossom. The newly built Katarina Lift simplified the journey to Mosebacke and a new audience flocked to the theatre. By far the most popular shows were the variety acts, which were performed in a newly built building on the terrace beside the iron structure of Kägelbanan.

Theatre director Zetterholm made a mistake with the theatre’s finances. It seemed there was not enough liquid assets to pay the actors’ wages. In desperation, he went up to the theatre attic and took his own life. This proved to be wholly unnecessary as it turned out he had miscalculated. Even today you can hear an unexplainable noise from the fateful attic.

Playwright Hedberg left Södra Teatern, but the energetic Zetterholm quickly managed to find a new writer –Frans Hodell. His play, “Andersson, Pettersson and Lundström”, in which comedian Gustav Bergström played Lundström, was a huge hit and played 250 times. Zetterholm was an unpredictable man. In 1870, he converted his troupe into an operetta ensemble. For several years, Scone Helena and other operettas graced the stage – much to the delight of both critics and audiences.

Södermalm’s population increased dramatically in the 1860s. Many of the new inhabitants were maids from the countryside. Södra Teatern’s writer, Hedberg, quickly realised that plays about the nobility were of little interest to maids on their Saturdays off. He thus wrote “Frun av stånd och frun i ståndet”, which attracted a large audience and ran for two years.

One August night, fire broke out in fish merchant Röling’s house at Hökens gränd. The flames spread quickly from building to building and it took three days to put the fire out. All that was left of the theatre were its walls. Fotograf: Lennart af Petersens

C. A. Wallman purchased the area around Mosebacke and transformed it into a place of entertainment with carousels, open-air dance floors and summer theatre. In 1851, the old restaurant was torn down and a new building with an auditorium was erected. The musical comedy “Den förgivna skatten” was on the bill for the premiere.

Mosebacke was a rowdy place that was seldom visited by the finer crowds. The inn that is now the site of Södra Teatern was dilapidated. Its guests primarily consisted of old men from the neighbourhood that smoked clay pipes and drank toddy.

Thank you to Åke Abrahamsson at Stadsmuseet, Drottningholm’s Theatre museum and  Eric Lindqvist for his insightful commentary.