Interview with Rúnar Guðbrandsson producer of Hvörf/Disappearances

07. May 2013

The theatre production, Hvörf/Disappearances is based on actual events that shook the Icelandic community in the 1970´s. It tells the tragic story of an investigation that was carried out following the disappearance of Gudmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson (no kinship) in the year 1974. The site of the new production is partially the former premises of Iceland's Supreme Court, next door to the National Theatre of Iceland. This enactment gives the experience an added historical touch. The case in 1974 was hyped up in the media and the police were under strong pressure by the authorities to solve the case. During the investigation, a group of young hippies were forced to admit guilt to the murder of the two disappeared men. Needless to say, the lives of these four youngsters were ruined for good.


The play is written, created and produced by theatre group LabLoki

PAI Enquire interrogated the producer and director, Rúnar Guðbrandsson from LabLoki, about the creation of Hvörf/Disappearances.

The production Hvörf/Disappearances is based on Guðmundur and Geirfinnur´s actual case, where these two men disappeared and were never found, yet their case treated as murder. What is your approach to the case and how do you interpret historical facts?

We approached this old case first and foremost through the original archives i.e. the indictments that consist of 26 books, the Supreme Court’s sentence of 627 pages and other preliminary data. In addition to that we examined thoroughly all media coverage from that time, books and other written material related to the case but published later on, for example memoirs from both defendants and investigators. Then, bearing all this in mind we took a look at the bigger picture while examining the Zeitgeist, i.e. political development and social conditions both here and abroad.

Many threads entwine the interpretation and processing of all this material. One of this threads is a “play” which dissolves, a story where we watch conflicts of fictional characters; investigators and defendants that have clear prototypes, some even more then one. These investigators are trying to solve complex criminal cases with methods like Aristotelian Poetics; one place, one time, on story; a beginning, middle and the end. I.e. they are trying to put up a traditional theatre performance. Playwrights in search of characters that could have been in a certain place at a certain time, and make them agree to one course of events. As to say this is a criminal story, but it does not a play out; there is no body, no murder weapons, no evidence, nothing. Even though the characters in the play are fictional and creatively outlined the whole dialogue is strictly out of the old case files and other references and all facts are kept intact. That is our way to demonstrate the obscurity that defined all these trials.  Another thread is the cold reality that now and then invades the “play” and reminds us that all this “really” happened. This we demonstrate through the characters, site-specificity and in time. In that way different methods collide and many viewpoints are drawn into the light cf. The Rashomon effect. 

Why do you undertake this method in your approach?

Amongst other things to highlight our opinion that nothing ads up in the pleading of the case that later was filed for court. It was a fabrication that got out of control. Nonetheless, the heaviest sentences that have been carried out in the history of the Icelandic democracy were based on these fabrications.

In the piece, chaos seems to be dominating yet there is a certain frame of order, is that a part of you approach to the original case and how it was executed regarding the extortions of the defendants? Is it your aim to recreate the chaos that characterized the case at the time?

Yes, the piece is by one thread meant to be a parade into the chaotic nightmare this case was. It was characterized by despair on all fronts.
Authorities tried to tame the shrew and to maintain order using various means; a strong order brings ease to the chaos and channels into a more focused direction. „There must be Method to the Madness“. We thought that high-pressured, aggressive aesthetics mixed with more peaceful breaks would best suit the material at hand.

Tell us a little bit about the artistic method within the play, both in blending actors with the audience and in blending the reality of the present with the past.

I would like to call Hvörf/Disapperances a performance or an event not a play per se, even though one part of the performance is some kind of a play. This is much more of a socio-political approach and diverse methods used to bring to the front desired effects that are both meant to create emotional and subjective reactions with the audience. These reactions force the audience to reflect on this part of the national history and question the past and the present. Part of the show is for example an arts exhibition in the hallway of the old Supreme Court, which the audience can review after the performance in the Supreme Court main hall. In the exhibition, all the main facts of the case are setup in a timeline and conspiracy theories graphically processed amongst other data used in the making of the piece. Therefore one can say the purpose is served by seeking methods from many directions, the political theatre of the 80´s, with inspiration from Dario Fo, Artaud´s Theatre of cruelty, Augusto Boal´s participatory theatre, film-and pop culture of the era etc. Different styles and unexpected directions serve the purpose to recreate the chaos that characterized the case and shed light on the bigger picture.

What is the moral of the story? Should there be one?

A newly published investigation report tells us, that without a doubt, that the confessions in the defendant cases were unpredictable and false. We take these facts a step further and declare that the confessions were forced, even against the better judgments of the investigators. Their power was without limits and that is dangerous. Cops’ trying to be poets is a risky business.

More news