Halmstad Theatre – over 65 eventful years

The year is 1954. The date is 13 November. Today it is finally time for the opening of Halmstad Theatre and Folkets Hus. About 1,000 expectant guests gather at the theatre. A packed programme awaits them. The premiere play is August Strindberg’s The Dance of Death, featuring Karin Kavli and the Gothenburg City Theatre.

Now we skip ahead to the present day. The 13th of November, 2019. Exactly 65 years since the theatre’s inauguration. In honour of the occasion, The Dance of Death is presented once again here at Halmstad Theatre. This time with the theatrical giants of our time: Mikael Persbrandt, Lena Endre and Thomas Hanzon. It’s as if everything has come full circle.

“We’re really proud to operate out of this fantastic building, with its unique cultural heritage treasures,” says Henrik Drakenberg, Director of Halmstad Theatre. “This is truly a place for meetings, both on and off the stage. We only see opportunities when it comes to developing the performance aspect of our activities, as well as the platform for meetings and conferences.”

“Mr. Halmstad Theatre”

Given that Halmstad Theatre is one of the spryest pensioners you have ever met, we can’t help but highlight our Stage Master Jan Nilsson from this historical perspective. At the end of October 2019, he turned 65. So he is the same age as the theatre – an almost incredible coincidence. What makes it particularly special is that Jan basically “grew up” here at the theatre, where his father was once stage master. Jan really is “Mr. Halmstad Theatre”.

From breaking ground to a premiere celebrated with a Churchill-sized cigar

But now let’s take a brief look back in time. Our time machine has transported us back to 13 November 1954 once more. Halmstad’s new venue for entertainment and meetings is ready to be inaugurated. Among the guests was the 82-year-old theatre prima donna Anette Lindgren. It was she who got to do the groundbreaking honours when the construction of the theatre and Folkets Hus began two and a half years earlier.

Ernst R. Andersson, Chairman of the City Council, gave the opening speech on inauguration day. It was about enlightenment, study-work, entertainment and pleasure. Gunnar Hyll, Chairman of Folkets Parkföreningen, expressed his hope that many individuals and organisations would make use of all the property’s great potential. The building’s architect, Gösta Hedström, praised the city for its willingness to invest in artistic ornamentation. The city’s gift to the theatre was a tapestry signed Sven “X-et” Ericsson, woven by textile artist Barbro Nilsson. The speaker of the festival was John (Johan) August Ericsson, a cabinet minister nicknamed “Kinna-Ericsson”. According to the Hallandsposten newspaper, he was “dressed to the nines and smoking a cigar of truly Churchillian proportions”.

A celebrated Functionalist property with unique contemporary art

Halmstad Theatre took two and a half years to complete. Many wondered how the architects would manage to combine two elements as different as a “folkets hus”[literally, “the people’s house”, a type of community centre] and a theatre. Yet according to an article in Hallandsposten, dated 13 November 1954, they succeeded. Here are some quotes from the article.

  • “The exterior impresses with its clean surfaces, its weight and its mass.”
  • ”The airy entrance lightens up the building and invites you to enter it. The Functionalist style in which the architects worked has created a sense of festivity without ostentation, and monumentality without overbearingness. Perhaps the visitor will feel this most strongly when he enters the vestibule. Here he experiences a sense of upwards lift, and it is a pleasant surprise that this impression only intensifies and increases when one walks up the marble stairs to the Theatre and continues through the artistically ornate foyer to reach the building’s culmination, the theatre auditorium, which is wonderful in the true sense of the word.”

The theatre’s original works of art have been preserved to this day. Some of them were designed and manufactured by the Surrealists of the renowned Halmstad Group.

Halmstad Theatre – still going strong

In the 1980s, Halmstad Municipality took over the theatre from Folkets Parkföreningen and now owns the entire property. Halmstad Theatre is part of the municipality-owned company Destination Halmstad AB, which works with destination development, tourism, events and meetings. In spring 2020, the Halmstad Tourist Centre will also move into the lower foyer.

“We’re working to broaden our activities and reach new target groups. Both in terms of meetings and in terms of different types of performances. Lunch theatre is a relatively new concept. Live broadcasts of operas from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City are also popular. We’ve even invited third graders to ‘Discover Halmstad Theatre’. That was a real hit, so we plan to follow up with a similar activity next year. Special events such as trade fairs and product shows are also increasing. We want Halmstad Theatre to be a vibrant hub for meetings and experiences, both day and night,” concludes Henrik Drakenberg.