Leka med elden
The original text
This is one of three plays written when Strindberg's first marriage was in the process of breaking up. All three works are fuelled by sexual tension and typify Strindberg's enduring theme: the constant and consuming battle for power between the sexes. The dark tragedy of The Father (1887) makes it one of haunting psychological dramas of the modern theatre, while the complex naturalist drama Miss Julie (1888) has become one of the core masterpieces of 20th century theatre, often performed and adapted. By contrast the rare Strindberg comedy Playing With Fire (1892), written when the couple were battling in court over the custody of their children, is less widely known, but it too is a gem of a one-act play of its kind.
Set in a beach cottage on an island in the Swedish archipelago in high summer, it tells of Knut, a painter, and his wife Kerstin, who are entertaining an old friend, Axel. The crisis comes when Axel and Kerstin declare their long-suppressed love and confront Knut with the news.
The play was written in 1892 and first produced in German as Das Spiel mit dem Feuer at the Lessingtheater, Berlin, on 3 December, 1893 (receiving a very negative response), followed by a Dutch production at the Grand Théâtre, Amsterdam on 4 October, 1895. It only had its first production in Sweden at thw Restaurang National, Stockholm, on May 3, 1907. The German text was published 1893 and the Swedish in 1897.
For more on these performances, and other international productions of Strindberg's plays, see Michael Robinson's annotated bibliography (2008)
Originally translated into German as Das Spiel mit dem Feuer and published by the Verlag des Bibliographischen Bureaus in 1893, the year of its German production. (Also found as Mit dem Feuer spielen in later translations.).
Translated into English as Playing with Fire by E. Classen and published in the Strindberg collection Lucky Peter’s Travels and Other Plays in 1930. Among the other English translations done are versions by Walter Johnson (published in The Washington Strindberg, vol. 12, 1983), Evert Sprinchorn, (in Selected Plays, 1986) and Michael Mayer ().
An English version was apparently only performed in England on 18 June, 1962 (by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre, London), in a double bill with Harold Pinter's The Collector.
There have been a surprising number of adaptations of this work, among the many other literary, dramatic and filmic works all using the title Playing with Fire. Few of these, beyond the original play, have to date actually been done in South Africa.
Performance history in South Africa
1967/8? A production of the English text was done by the Drama Department of the University of the Orange Free State, as an exam piece for two female students, directed by Marlene Kotzen with three guest actors to fill the male roles - Schalk Jacobsz (as "Knut"), Temple Hauptfleisch (as "Axel") and Hudson Earp.
1983: A production of the English text was done by the Baxter Theatre in association with Minotaurus, directed by Dieter Reible, starring Chris van Niekerk, Mitzi Booysen, Michael Drin, Megan Kruskal, Marthinus Basson. The first performance in the Baxter Studio was on 13 April 1983.
1986: Wie Met Vuur Speel was presented by Universiteitsteater Stellenbosch in the H.B. Thom Theatre in September 1986, directed by Juanita Swanepoel with drama stuudents. Decor by Emile Aucamp, costumes by Elaine Aucamp.
Michael Robinson (compiler, annotator and editor). 2008. An International Annotated Bibliography of Strindberg Studies 1870-2005: Volume 2 - The plays. Modern Humanities Research Association: pp. 1005-1012
World Drama by Allardyce Nicoll. Harrap, 1949.
Personal recollections by Temple Hauptfleisch of the 1967/8 student production
Playing with Fire theatre programme, 1983.
UTS theatre programme
Go to ESAT Bibliography
Return to PLAYS I: Original SA plays
Return to PLAYS II: Foreign plays
Return to PLAYS III: Collections
Return to South African Festivals and Competitions
Return to The ESAT Entries
Return to Main Page