Leka med elden

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Leka med elden ("Play with fire") is a one act play by August Strindberg (1849-1912)[1].

Widely known by its English title, Playing with Fire

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 Michael Meyer (The Plays of Strindberg, Volume I, 1964), Walter Johnson (published in The Washington Strindberg, vol. 12, 1983) and Evert Sprinchorn, (in Selected Plays, 1986).

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.

Translated into Afrikaans and adapted as a radio drama called Wie Met Vuur Speel ("he who plays with fire") by S.J. Pretorius. Broadcast as Om met Vuur te Speel by the SABC, directed by Monica Breedt.

Michael Meyer's English text was translated into Afrikaans by Herman Pretorius for performance by students. Intitially also titled Om met Vuur te Speel, but apparently changed to Wie Met Vuur Speel for the actual performance.


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.

See the entry on Playing with Fire in this encyclopaedia, as well as the one in Wikipedia[2] for a list of such works.

Performance history in South Africa

1967/8? A production of the English text was done by the newly founded 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 students. Decor by Emile Aucamp, costumes by Elaine Aucamp.

2018: Performed in English by the Claremont Dramatic Society in the Masque Theatre, Muizenberg from 27 July to 4 August, directed Bernie Jacobs It formed part of a double bill with The Open Door (Alfred Sutro).






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[3]



World Drama by Allardyce Nicoll. Harrap, 1949.

Personal recollections by Temple Hauptfleisch of the 1967/8 student production in Bloemfontein.

Barrow, Brian & Williams-Short, Yvonne 1988.

Playing with Fire theatre programme, 1983.

Playscript [Typescript with holograph emendations] of the adaptation by Dieter Reible held by NELM: [Collection: BAXTER THEATRE]: 2009. 21. 38


"Claremont Dramatic Society Presents Playing with Fire by August Strindberg at Masque Theatre", Broadwayworld.com[4]

UTS theatre programme

Copy of a typed text of the radio text of Om met Vuur te Speel, found in the radio archives of the Stellenbosch Drama Department

Copy of a typed text of the Afrikaans stage text of Om met Vuur te Speel, with a pencil note changing the title to Wie Met Vuur Speel, found in the Stellenbosch Drama Department archives in 2022.

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