It’s been altogether too long since I went to a spex, so I brought along the posse to see ”Gustav III, eller, Svårigheten att komma till skott” (“Gustav III, or, Barkeep, gimme another shot”).
It seems the state of spex has moved somewhat, at least judging from this sample, which kept high standards of acting and psychological development, while the audience had become more rowdy, constantly yelling requests at the actors. I was also a bit surprised to find that all female roles were played by actual women and the male roles all by men. (Honeybuns suggested that cross-dressing is so common it has no effect any more and thus can just be dumped.) The second-act ensemble a capella had been moved to the finale and there was no Pun Cascade worth mentioning.
That said, it was a tightly scripted exercise, starting with King Gustav away in France, shirking his duties according to his brother, the prim and stiff Duke Charles. Therefore he has hatched a plan to oust the king with the help of their cousin, Empress Catherine. Bellman, ne’er-do-well and the King’s best friend, however joyously announces that the king is returning. Hollinder, the barman at Gyldene Freden, is being henpecked by visiting nobles.
Eventually the king arrives and goes straight to Gyldene Freden to find Bellman and tell of his travels in France, where Liberty, Equality and Fraternity have just been invented. Bellman and the king celebrate their reunion with joyous horse-play, but both Duke Charles and Queen Sophia turn up to remind the king of his duties: wars and parties. Tomorrow there will be a masked ball to celebrate the return of the king and the queen wants it to be “Perfect perfect perfect”. Bellman, being a commoner, is expressly not wanted at the party. Bellman is hurt and the king is pained but forced to uphold the queen’s decree, because after all, one has to do one’s duties.
Duke Charles and Catherine have a secret meeting where he explains that the king should be made to abdicate. Catherine, a stereotypical Russian who will kiss and kill with the same hearty laugh, has no patience with such finesse and decides on her own to simply kill the king. Hollinder suggests she contact a mysterious man, known as Anckarström. This she does and hands the masked Anckarström money and a gun with which to shoot the king.
The next day the queen is dressing up the unhappy king, who vainly tries to explain that he actually does not want to be king and really not her husband either. She does not listen, but gets more and more exasperated with his uninterest in the perfect perfect perfect ball. When the king leaves, she has a chat with Catherine, who explains how she killed her husband the Czar and became ruler over the Russian empire. Sophia gets an idea. Catherine offers help—in exchange for suitable parts of the Swedish kingdom. They haggle for a while over who’ll have to take Finland. An upset Finn in the audience curses loudly.
Meanwhile the king has sought out Bellman and asks him to came to the ball anyway. Bellman has a bright idea for how the king can escape his duties and rushes off without having time to explain his idea.
Sophia finds Anckarström and hands him money and a gun with which to kill the king.
Bellman also locates Anckarström and hands him money and a gun with which to kill the king. We understand that this gun is loaded with a blank.
Before the masked ball Hollinder, who is responsible for the catering, arrives with a heavy bag, which he nervously tries to hide and then opens. It turns out to contain three guns and Anckarström’s mask and cape. He picks one of the guns at random. The ball begins.
During the ball a masked man turns up and shoots the king, who falls. Curtains.
In the final act Duke Charles is besides himself, what hath Catherine wrought, this was not his plan at all. Is the king still alive even? A physician, suspiciously similar to Bellman in disguise, assures he has the situation under control, but is also very nervous. In private with the king it turns out the king is alive, though wounded. Bellman is desperately upset that his plan backfired so badly. The king tries to console him. But, can they escape? Before they manage to leave, everybody else arrive in the king’s chamber through various secret passages. In particular a wild-eyed Hollinder arrives, determined to go into history by finishing the job with his two remaining guns. Duke Charles manages to snatch one of these for himself and there is a standoff for the space of several restarts of the ensemble a capella, and then the two men fire. Both Hollinder and the king fall. The czarina and the queen rejoice, but Duke Charles takes over the situation at swordpoint and sends them packing.
The king awakes from his faint to the joy of Bellman and the relief of Duke Charles. The king however decides it suits him to remain dead and leave for France with Bellman, leaving the kingdom in the hands of Duke Charles. The brothers solemnly take farewell and then finally Gustav and Bellman can meet in a deep kiss. The audience goes wild. Curtains.
I was quite impressed with the performance of Gustav, unwilling but duty-bound, the straight man of the play. Hollinder, also a man under pressure, got somewhat short shrift, being killed with no eulogies (though yet a better death than the real Anckarström received). On the whole an enjoyable evening.