Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Siri Strindberg as a budding actress

When practical obstacles or family problems stand in the way for my writing 
I often think about the Herculean task that Siri von Essen took on when she set her mind to become an actress. Everything seemed to go against her at the beginning, but she was unswerving in her determination and did not let anything stop her. With that kind of inner strength she was to become an ideal companion for Strindberg for many years to come. She has often been dismissed as a poor or not very good actress by people who have not bothered to go back to the sources, but the reviews and eyewitnesses speak a different story.

After her divorce from Baron Carl Gustaf Wrangel she took lessons from a voice coach and a drama teacher and she worked hard at eradicating her Finland-Swedish accent. Meanwhile, Sigrid, her young daughter, was ill with meningitis which developed into pneumonia. The day for Siri’s debut performance as an actress was set for 27 January 1877 and on 13 January her daughter died. On 19 January she was buried. Siri’s mother insinuated that it could be God’s punishment. Under these truly awful circumstances Siri made her long-awaited debut on the stage of The Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.The newspaper Aftonbladet singled her out and wrote: ‘Mrs von Essen shows more promise than  usual for a beginner. She moves with ease and has stillness; her gestures are economical, but have the desired effect when used; her voice is clear and pleasant, although it drops in volume occasionally; it possesses a sensitive and varied expression, but you can sometimes detect a slight Finnish accent. It is so slight, though, that it could easily be eradicated with a bit of effort. Her ability to hold an animated conversation with a good sense of timing is remarkable, but she is not as successful in her exclamations or asides; her face, on the other hand, is capable of more varied expressions than many an experienced actor. That applies especially to her eyes; and her presence is graceful if somewhat weak in certain scenes.‘
The two other major morning papers, Stockholms Dagblad and  Dagens Nyheter also praised her talent and Dagens Nyheter emphasized her naturalness and beauty. All the critics seemed to agree that she moved gracefully and had a very pleasant voice. She was called in three times after the curtain call. After this initial success she was offered the lead in Charlotte Birch-Pfeisser’s play Jane Eyre. Again Siri had to battle with personal problems while preparing for a huge part. Her mother died during the run and since she was without siblings it was up to her to deal with the funeral and disperse of the contents of the family home.
Miraculously, she pulled through and was offered a one-year contract at The Royal Dramatic Theatre but when she came back after the summer break she was pregnant again, but continued working until the end of the year. Strindberg and Siri got married on 30 December and the child, who was called Kerstin, was born, on 24 January 1878 and died the same day. Kerstin was buried on 27 January and eight days later Siri was back on stage in the same role that she had been playing before Christmas. 
A few happy years followed when they both develeoped as artists and enjoyed success in their chosen fields. Eleven years Siri was to give her last professional performance as an actress in Copenhagen. Her part that time was Lady Julie.

Strindberg and Love is now available as an e-book. It is published by Amber Lane Press and sold through Amazon.