Playing with Fire

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Playing with Fire (original Swedish title Leka med elden) is a one act play by August Strindberg (1849-1912)

The original text

The Father is one of three superb 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 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 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.

Translations and adaptations

The English version was only performed in London in 1962.

Translated into Afrikaans as Wie Met Vuur Speel for the radio by S.J. Pretorius, adapted for the stage by Herman Pretorius.

The Private Theatre, New York, created a new play, also called Playing with Fire, based on Strindberg's original play. In this version the creators (adaptors Royston Coppenger and Shane Bly Killoran, and director John Gould Rubin) focus on what they see as the play's themes of sexual frenzy, illicit coveting, exhibitionism, voyeurism, wife swapping and licentious fantasy, but expanding the cast to 14 performers. Performed in 2012.

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, directed by Marlene Kotzen with Schalk Jacobsz, Temple Hauptfleisch, Hudson Earp and two female students.

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.

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

The double bill opens at on Friday 27 July and runs until Saturday 4 August with shows at 20h00 Wednesday to Friday and 18h30 on Saturdays. There will also be a matinee performance at 14h30 on Saturday 4 August.


Recollections of a Bloemfontein production by Temple Hauptfleisch

Barrow, Brian & Williams-Short, Yvonne (eds.). 1988. Theatre Alive! The Baxter Story 1977-1987.

Playing with Fire theatre programme, 1983.

World Drama by Allardyce Nicoll. Harrap, 1949.

"Claremont Dramatic Society Presents Playing with Fire by August Strindberg at Masque Theatre",[1]

UTS theatre programme

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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