Musical gives a fresh feminist twist on mental illness

Svenska Dagbladet 200301


Helen Sjöholm and Daniel Engman embody the shame of mental fragility with humor and musicality in Next to normal. The musical raises a taboo subject in the daylight and touches on the depth.

Next to normal
Genre: Musical
Directed by: Ronny Danielsson
Starring: Helen Sjöholm, Daniel Engman, James Lund, Rolf Lydahl, Stina Nordberg, Martin Redhe Nord.
Musicians: Magnus Bengtsson, Joakim Hallin, Hanna Helgegren, Ulric Johansson, Dan Strömkvist, Anna Wallgren
Where: Uppsala City Theater
Lyrics: Brian Yorkey.
Swedish lyrics: Calle Norlén
Choreography: Roger Lybeck
Music: Tom Kitt.

In a virtuoso opening number, the psychiatrist in Next to normal writes a long line of colorful medicines to bipolar Diana, who exclaims: “Sobril is my favorite color!”. The monologue is interspersed with a humorous pastiche in walz pace of My Favorite Thing, the song in Sound of music which is about tempering the fear with cute stuff.

The question is: is it me who is crazy, or is it my partner who makes me sick? (…)

When the success musical comes to Uppsala city theater, a bunch of musical foxes guarantee the highest quality. Ronny Danielsson’s directing adds low-key seriousness while the title role as Diana is played with responsive humor by musical star Helen Sjöholm, and equally experienced Daniel Engman manages the diabolical psychiatrist who triggers a process of change and turns upside down on Diana’s marriage and life.

It´s the dance between them that raises the taboo-related theme of mental illness in the spotlight – but in Calle Norlén’s Swedish lyrics there is also a fresh, feminist twist. To be sure, it´s a messed-up world where women are declared ill, when the problem is just as much because men lack contact with their own emotions.

The playwright Julia Przedmojska works with stylized minimalism that puts the actors in focus. The curtain goes up over a home painted and decorated in fifty shades of beige. Diana’s husband Dan (Rolf Lydahl) (…) wants her to calm down so they can become a normal family. But it doesn´t work out as he imagines when he is dragging his wife to various psychiatrists, after a manic relapse where she washed the home with hand-rubbing and shopping for toasters. Diana begins to process the trauma that triggered the disease, confronts her husband, and realizes how effectively he has suppressed it himself.

“I’m here!” Gabriel (Martin Redhe Nord) sings, the rocky rebel son who haunts the family long after his passing in infancy, and becomes Diana’s alter ego in psychosis. On the other hand, the caricurated extroverted daughter Natalie (Stina Nordberg) feels unseen by her parents, starts nibble her mother’s tablets and living a hectic nightlife before her boyfriend Henrik, nicely played by James Lund, gets her on second thoughts (…)

(The entire review is not reproduced for copyright reasons)