A mentally exhausting musical that causes cramping in the tear ducts

Dagens Nyheter 200301


Next to Normal at Uppsala City Theater is a family tragedy that takes place within the four walls of the home. DN’s reviewer Johanna Paulsson sees a strong musical where Helen Sjöholm’s role is the show’s emotional core.


Next to normal
Script and lyrics: Brian Yorkey
Music: Tom Kitt
Translation: Calle Norlén
Directed by: Ronny Danielsson
Scenography and costume: Julia Przedmojska
Musically responsible and Chaplain: Joakim Hallin
Choreography: Roger Lybeck
Starring: Helen Sjöholm, Rolf Lydahl, Stina Nordberg, Martin Redhe Nord, Daniel Engman and James Lund
Stage: Uppsala City Theater
Duration: 2 hours and 35 minutes (including break)

Diana Goodman, a woman with bipolar disorder, commutes between peaks and valleys as the family fends off as best they can. Next to normal, which was previously set up in both Karlstad and Stockholm, is still in the country of “happiness pills”, but is certainly not an antidepressant musical. On the contrary, it goes against the genre’s feel-good conventions, lacks uplifting dance numbers and gives more cramp in the tear ducts than in the laughing muscles. At least as important as it is about mental illness in itself is that it revolves around and makes visible the difficulties and dependencies of the relatives. A substance that requires responsiveness to both the seriousness and the humor of the situation.

(…) Julia Przedmojska stands for tight scenography with geometric simplicity. Two white house backdrops that can slide in and out of each other to create scene depth or frame parallel events.

(…) Martin Redhe Nord plays the dead, but apparently living son with an obstinate presence. High-performance teenage daughter Natalie has been in the shadow of her lost brother and mother’s mental illness. A role Stina Nordberg balances nicely between vulnerability and anger. Not least when she and her boyfriend Henrik (James Lund) occasionally have to reflect both the parents’ love and dysfunctional relationship.

Calle Norlén’s sharp translation means that both singing and dialogue flow freely and with clinical credibility. Daniel Engman’s doctor Galén is not quite as crazy as the name and his entrance suggest. Joakim Hallin and his five fellow musicians bring out the nuances of Kit’s diverse music which, beyond the noisy rock appropriation, breathes both jazz and country, music box melodies and warped walzing bow melancholy. But the emotional core of the show is, of course, Helen Sjöholm’s Diana, embodied with a kind of everyday exaltation in both voice and acting. Like Rolf Lydahl as husband Dan, whose life disappointment and love-destroying hopefulness is almost touchable.

“We now have a happily singing rubbish bin”, she replies when he wonders what happened to the new medicines. With electric shock therapy, good memories are also chased away and the disorientation ends with collapse. The closest thing to a happy ending is Diana’s quest for a condition that is at least next to normal. A dream that is nourished by love in a strong and mentally exhausting musical set, whose daring everyday life never swerves because broken brains are difficult to fix and at the same time asks who is really crazy.

(The entire review is not reproduced for copyright reasons)