The Norwegian novelist, playwright and poet Jon Fosse has had a long association with Presence. I first became aware of him when I was on the script committee at The Royal Court in the mid nineties. I met him for the first time at The National Theatre's BT Connections in Keswick and told him that he was the playwright who spoke to me more than any other. I said I would do what I could to produce his plays in the UK (It's been slow going over the years). We founded Presence Theatre a few years later and our first full production was Warm at Theatre 503. This was an oblique love triangle played out at the end of a pier or landing place at the edge of a Norwegian fjord. Everyone seemed to find it baffling except those who permitted its utter simplicity. We have also presented readings of his early masterpiece The Name (still on our to-do list) and Sea, both at The Norwegian Embassy, for whose support over the years we are very grateful. I have also directed Dead Dogs at The Print Room (now The Coronet). This was not a Presence production, but it was a consequence of the company's work with Fosse over a decade.I have also directed a number of his plays at various drama schools, including The Girl On The Sofa at RADA. Presence has covered most of Fosse's plays in its reading group,now nearly twenty years old.
In the last few years Fosse has returned almost exclusively to writing fiction. Septology, written in one sentence over seven volumes, is, in my view, the novel of the century so far and surely swung The Nobel Prize For Literature in his favour this year. For a writer who is a dog lover, considering them to be 'angels', it is typical that this story of the transition or transmigration of a soul from one dying painter to one still living happens via a small white dog, Bragi, the transubstantive soul. The two painters are, of course, a single entity. The idea of a soul flowing through skin into a collective unity is, obviously, counter cultural in an English theatre rooted in indivisible characterisation and motive.
We are currently intending to produce As It Was, a play for one actor and very much Septology's afterbirth. A man, a very successful painter who believes he has sacrificed his life - wives, children and so on-for his work, is near the end. In some way he desires the end, but also fears it. He is uncertain about what life is, inevitably, so how can he know what death is, except not-to-be-alive. He is lonely, infirm. visited by a woman he doesn't care for who always asks him about the children he wouldn't even recognise, let alone hear from.
But he has become a devout Catholic. The play marks his desperate attempt at prayer as his powers fail and fade. Can he say The Lord's Prayer? It may stabilise him in a moment of Life or Death crisis.
In a world as spiritually hungry as ours (though often we don't know it) this play could save lives. We are determined, as is Jon, to mount a production.