As a teenager, I dreamed of becoming a musician or dramatist but for some reason I became a Chartered Accountant instead. That’s what we in Norway call a “Statsautorisert Revisor”. A respectable enough but let’s face it, a rather DULL choice! Of course I blame parent pressure but maybe it was not such a bad idea after all. As luck would have it I was total misfit in my chosen career, not because it was dull but because I seem to have been born with an unpopular sixth sense of finding corruption and fraud wherever I look. It was so unpopular in fact that in 1989, I escaped from my England to take up a job in Norsk Hydro… in Oslo. But as luck would have it, I soon found myself immersed in a world of corruption in the oil and chemicals industry. Finding too much does not go down well in the corporate world, but since I can´t just turn off the “curse” I was born with I decided to “make my weakness my strength” (as my director Kai Johnsen told me the other day in fact) and left Hydro in 1996 to become a full time investigator or “korrupsjonsjeger”. The last years has been a fascinating journey but in spite of all the juicy cases, and not least “finds” in Norway and many other parts of the world my frustration only gets worse as each time my reports are buried. And every time I find something really big over here: millions paid to African Dictators, bribes to sell Norwegian products overseas, pots of Norwegian cash in Dirty Money Centres (“skatteparadiser”)… I meet this huge wall of silence.
“The theatre is a place people want to hear the truth…it’s an open place…isn’t it”
So a few years ago, with the help of talented friends and colleagues in the theatre like Pia Maria Roll and Marius Kolbenstvedt, we started making real cases of corruption, in Norway, into documentary theatre performances like “Oh Thank Heaven for September 11th” (2002), Over Evne III (2010) and Ship O’Hoi (2012). These performances were enthusiastically received by new and fresh audiences. We were on a roll. Over Evne III even poked fun at how many Norwegians flock to watch escapist, syrupy musicals about NOTHING rather than experience a little of the truth.
But my personal frustration only increased. Audiences were excited; they even started to come in droves… there were debates about corruption afterwards, but the end result… was still very little. I started questioning my own methods: Is it because people think even documentary theatre must still be heavily laced with artistic licence. Or is it simply that we cannot accept that widespread corruption actually does take place in what we are told is one of the richest, happiest and most peaceful countries on earth!
But then one investigation which flashed across my desk caught me off guard. It had it all: dirty money, a detective who was forced to turn to fiction to get his true story read, nice-Norwegians AND one of the biggest musicals in living memory!
I had just had my “John Belushi”-moment from the film “The Blues Brothers”. I had seen the light. We had to make a new MUSICAL about corruption because “What we in Norway are unable to talk about, too seriously… we can maybe sing about?
Of course my own dream, which nobody believes in…yet, is this huge, opulent musical, about corruption, with magnificent sets, dancers, an orchestra and of course a Norwegian star like Kåre Conradi playing the fallen leader! And as you may guess, we are not quite there yet but we have taken some baby steps along the way. Thanks to development money from Kulturåd and support from Theatre Avant Garden we have a lounge-cabaret version of “Corruption the Musical”. On 16th April this year we gave our first experimental performance of “Corruption the Musical” at the piano bar at Britannia Hotel, Trondheim as part of Theatre Avant Garden’s new “Mørkerommet” project to escape from the confines of the institutional theatre. 40 minutes of live stage work lead to nearly two hours of animated conversation with the audience. It seems as everyone has a personal relationship to corruption and a story that needs to be told! Engaging with the audience like this has really helped define what Corruption the Musical is and what people want out of it.
This cabaret performance has been developed further in June at a performance in Åsenhuset, Nessodden, where we have just held a workshop with the new “orchestra”.
Inspired by performances like Trondheim and Nessodden, and with additional support from Kulturåd, Dramatikkens hus and many others we are now developing the more “full blown” version of Corruption the Musical. Closer to the dream….
The challenge will be to see whether we can create a powerful but also catchy musical performance which blends together real experiences, characters based on reality, hitherto unknown but explosive evidence of corruption with a strong dramatic storyline and powerful songs which people remember. As I have always believed, the musical format can be used to get the message across to a wide audience (not just the enlightened and artists who are passionate and know that something needs to be done) but also the dark masses of people from all walks of life who prefer to shy away from documentary “art theatre”.