"The Bloodbath of Stockholm" tells the tale of how King Christian II of Denmark (known in Sweden as Christian the Tyrant) ordered the execution of up to 100 people in the Old Town's Stortorget square on November 7-9, 1520. Written by Brit Keith Foster, the play aims to shock but also make the audience think about execution as a spectacle – something he argues still occurs in some form today.
"At the time King Christian controlled Denmark, Norway and southern Sweden, and wanted to complete the set. He marched north with his armies to take control of Stockholm, entered the city after a short siege, and after partying for a weekend or so, ordered a lot of potential opponents to the main square and killed them. The blood literally ran down the drains – that's why it's called the bloodbath," the writer explained to The Local.
"I've always wanted to do a horror, which is something that doesn't really exist in the Stockholm scene, and wanted to scare people. I was writing another piece when I realized there's a story that actually took place here. So I decided to use that."
To make matters creepier, the play is being staged in an Old Town cellar from the 14th century, and Foster says there will be a supernatural element to go with the ancient setting.
"The cellar's a semi-circular with old brickwork. You feel the history in the walls – a phrase used a lot, but not many places have it like here. As you go down the steps, everything is small, confined, and you feel the weight of the buildings above you. It's unnerving."
"There's a feeling that the Old Town as an island has seen its fair share of this kind of stuff. If you go back 1,000 years the Vikings used to carry out executions there, so there's a question of whether there's something deep and dark under the ground that wakes up every now and then and demands its meal."
Christian the Tyrant. Photo: Miriam Ventura/Stockholm English Speaking Theatre
He also thinks the story has a resonance in the modern era, where smart phones and television constantly delivers images of atrocities.
"We're trying to get the audience involved. The massacre took place 500 years ago but they still happen today. We ask how much of a role onlookers play: do they share any responsibility? They say that when this took place people watched from their windows, and in those days executions were seen as a form of entertainment," he notes.
"But today we see atrocities and mass shootings on our phones or TV, and in some way there's still an audience. In the case of the Bloodbath, I think it was done because the king knew there was an audience – to make a political point. If they didn't look, would it have happened? We get the audience involved and ask them that."
Cryptically, he also hints that the audience may be asked to do more than just look.
"They could risk being part of the massacre themselves..."
The Bloodbath of Stockholm will be staged at the Old Town's Musikvalvet Baggen on several dates between November 16th and December 2nd. More information can be found here.
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