That Theatre Company celebrates 25 years

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I put it to Ian the other day that I didn’t want to produce and write (every page bar the interview with long-time director Barry McKenna on page 3) a supplement that read like CPH POST had its tongue up his arse (to be fair: that sounds more vulgar in print than when I said it).

But we kind of do: for as long as I’ve known Ian (13 years and counting … hope that isn’t an omen), he has never ceased to … well, just that, he never gives in; the man is indefatigable. He acts, directs, produces, promotes, encourages, offers pearls of wisdom and untold friendship and love, and he never turns down the opportunity to enrich others’ lives. Then, he recharges on the Greek island of Antiparos and repeats all over again.

I like so many people I’ve interviewed for this supplement, along with both the Danish and international communities in Copenhagen and across the country, owe this man an enormous debt for the incredible body of work That Theatre Company (main interview on pages 4-5) has produced over the last 25 years.

Read on for a little taste of what Ian and That Theatre have achieved since 1997 (see pages 8-15 for a comprehensive timeline), some of their failings, and some hot gypsies along the way.

Mystery that prevails

So why isn’t Ian Burns a household name across Denmark? Tom McEwan, his collaborator over the first decade of That Theatre shenanigans (see page 8), now 82, clearly is. Half the country loves the affable Scot for the colour he brought to their childhoods – but Ian, cut from the same cloth, has never been afforded the same attention.

It isn’t like Ian doesn’t have Danish friends (see pages 6-7 for their take) – both in the industry and outside it. When he’s speaking fluently in their mother tongue with them, he clearly has an enormous affinity with the people and their country.

After all, he’s lived here half his life (32 out of 65 years to be exact). Then again, he did previously live in Luton …

Pillar of our community

Well, scorched onto these very here pages are perhaps some clues as to why Ian and That Theatre Company haven’t received


the attention they deserve from the Danish media.

On at least three occasions, Ian has had a bone to pick with CPH POST over its coverage, which isn’t a great deal, given the longevity of our relationship, which dates back to 1999.

Others might have sucked it up – the criticism or, in our case, mostly typos – but Ian is a great believer in speaking his mind. His honesty, total integrity and eagerness to talk things through in a constructive way are what make him a pillar of our community and so well respected. And he’s invariably

always right – it’s a sound judgment that has served him well in 43 play choices and countless casting dilemmas.

Legacy to be proud of Unfortunately the Danes are not well known for their ease with confrontation: you know, face-to-face conversations. All it might have taken for Ian to be blacklisted by the media in this country is an offthe-cuff remark in person, or a missive pointing out various errors. Jesus, hearsay and the thought of confrontation would probably earn him a lifetime ban from some prominent newspaper critics.

The way I see it is that empire builders, because that is what Ian is, need to burn a few bridges to complete the Colosseum.

And besides, mate, most of these critics just regurgitate the plot, spoil the ending, remind you that a Danish theatre house beat you to it 27 years ago, like it’s a first-past-the-post race, and barely critique the staging at all.

So while you’ve missed out on an awful lot of recognition, funding and awards, you’re not exactly missing out on their words of wisdom. In 50 years from now, they’ll all be forgotten, but your legacy to this city will never diminish.


Beyond Ian Burns and his core team, nobody knows That Theatre Company better that Barry McKenna, its resident director since 2009

Since Barry McKenna moved to Denmark in the 1980s, he has not looked back, enjoying huge success for his work in both Danish-language and English-language theatre.

He has even won a Reumert. In 2008, he was part of the team who won the ‘Stor lille forestilling’ award for ‘Flammens Muse’.

Most prolific director

For That Theatre Company, he has directed 16 plays, written several, including the acclaimed ‘The Visit’ (see page 15), and enjoyed a successful collaboration with its artistic director Ian Burns – both writing and on stage.

CPH POST recently sat down with Barry to talk about his work for That Theatre Company, and how it compares to his experience in the wider Danish theatre community.

What makes That Theatre unique from other theatre companies?

That Theatre is unique in that they provide an educational kind of theatre that respects many English and American playwrights and works. I’ve been very lucky because I’ve been allowed to write for them as a playwright for about four different plays. For example, I did

‘Shakespeare Unplugged’, which was sort of an homage to Shakespeare through the eyes of a couple of Brits living in Denmark.

I also did ‘Shakespeare’s Women’, which was a compilation of how Shakespeare used women in his plays, set at the end of Shakespeare’s life and when he was forced to go back to London to write one last play. I suppose what also makes it unique is that it works with schools in an educational way: students aged 14 or 15 and upwards who are studying the plays and want to see English spoken theatre.

How did you get involved with That Theatre?

I have known Ian for years. I was a great fan of what he was doing in the early days, and then in 2009 he invited me to direct ‘Casanova Undone’. Since then I’ve directed 16 plays for him and then I’ve got something on the books for 2023, which I can’t tell you about yet, so I will release one more play with him. One of the most successful productions we did was ‘The Woman in Black’, the ghost story, which we did twice. The play had a really great effect on the audience, so it was great fun to do that.

Do you feel your creative processes as a director have changed or evolved over the years?

I think they definitely have evolved and I think it would be very difficult not to. The bonds get deeper with the core members of That Theatre. I was friends with them before I worked with them, as we were all in that expat community – you knew who you rely on. I think the artistic standard of it

has been phenomenal for a small theatre. It is a challenge to make it different every time in the same space, but I think we’ve managed to create a completely different universe every time we’ve put something on.

How did you get involved with theatre and directing before moving to Denmark?

I was already an actor with a 10-year career in England before I came to Denmark. When I arrived I couldn’t speak Danish, so I started to teach drama at some of the English schools and then got a permanent position at a theatre school. From then, I was invited to work with the Copenhagen Theatre Circle, directing both drama students and amateurs, and from there I was spotted as it were, and Ian asked me to direct ‘Casanova Undone’.

Why did you choose to move to Denmark?

Well, I came to Denmark to work for London Toast Theatre and its show ‘Crazy Christmas Cabaret’, and then I met my husband and we decided we wanted to make our life together. He was from Finland and I’m from England, so we met halfway and ended up in Denmark.

What advice would you give to somebody tackling the industry in Denmark?

It is different for each kind of person you meet. I do teach at Københavns Film &Teaterskole and there are a lot of young people who really want to see if they can become actors. People who can’t get into

the major schools see if they can find a private school. But if you’re coming here as an expat, I’ve spoken to a lot of Americans and English people and it is more difficult to break into theatre if you don’t speak fluent Danish. I wouldn’t get a role on a TV series unless it was an English-speaking character. One time I played a nosy neighbour in a film, but he was English, so I could speak Danish with an English accent. That’s about it; there are commercials, of course, but we don’t have any lines. Although I speak fluent Danish, my accent is still unacceptable to a Danish ear. However, that may have been to my advantage because then I’ve sort of concentrated on being a director. We really just keep ourselves going: that’s been the story of theatre through the ages; it’s like a patchwork sort of existence. You have to find your own work if the jobs aren’t coming in, or create your own projects.



Ian Burns’ life could have turned out very differently had he not listened to a teacher and embraced acting as a living

British athletes like Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram dominated the 800 and 1,500 metres during the 1980s. Back when athletics wasn’t dogged by constant drug abuse stories, and in the advent of the dominance of the Africans, they were household names.

The athletes adorned the bedroom walls of aspiring young British runners – some of whom went on to emulate them by winning more silverware.

Born in 1957, Ian Burns is less than six months younger than Coe. And it’s no exaggeration to claim he could have been part of Britain’s golden generation. When he hung up his running shoes as a teenager he was on a par with the best in the land.

But while his decision to give it up in

favour of acting was ultimately a blow to his home country, it was very much Copenhagen’s gain.

World-class promise

Burns’ knowledge of running came in handy when he directed Edoardo Erba’s play ‘Marathon’ in 2015 – one of That Theatre Company’s biggest triumphs of its first 25 years in existence.

His running journey started quite late: at the age of 15 he was ‘volunteered’ by a superior officer cadet at the Air Training Corps to run the 1,500 at Brize Norton RAF Air Base. He duly won in a time of just under four minutes, just 25 seconds outside the world record.

“I arrived at some ghastly hour on a windswept and drizzly Saturday morning and, as I stood at the starting line in some borrowed spikes, I distinctly remember thinking: “What’s the point of all this?” recalls Ian.

“I joined Luton Athletic Club where I

started training more seriously with two of the world’s best marathon runners of the day: Barry Simmons and Ian Thompson. I grew my hair, wore a tartan hat and went to events all over the country.”

The day he knew

But one day Ian’s life changed forever, and not in the way he might have imagined. Aged 17, he recalls how his ambitions were to “run; improve; try to get into the British team; and study to be a human biology and PE teacher.

Dr Martindale, his headteacher at Luton Sixth Form College, took Ian aside one day and asked him if he’d ever thought about becoming an actor. The good doctor had observed with wonder the weekly silence that befell the assembly hall when Ian addressed it.

Ian had never noticed, but after two more months, he realised how he “enjoyed the feeling of holding their attention in the palm of my hands”. An application to Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre was swiftly accepted, posing Ian with a dilemma: acting or running.

“I tossed a coin. ‘Heads – drama school; tails – PE college.’ It came down tails. ‘Best out of three!’ I said to myself, but then I knew.”


You ended up settling in Copenhagen in 1990 because you were in love with your wife Mette (see pages 6-7). When did the seeds of That Theatre start to germinate in your mind?

My first job in Denmark was with the Mermaid Theatre, but I then switched to London Toast Theatre for financial reasons – they offered me more money in wages. I remember asking Viv McKee what kind of productions they did, apart from the ‘Christmas Cabaret’. When she said Alan Ayckbourn, I confess to having doubts about making the move because Sven Berg, who ran The Mermaid, tended to do more challenging material. I’m happy to say that maybe because of my influence, London Toast started to do Pinter and Shakespeare productions. I had always wanted to have my own theatre company and had always written sketches, years before I came to Denmark. I started working with some likeminded singer/actors/musicians in 1994 at Café Teater. We performed in the bar, which could squeeze 100 people in. These sold very well and very quickly, so the idea of forming a proper theatre company started then. It took three years from then to set up That Theatre Company.

What kind of theatre did you set out to create?

Theatre with energy, passion, skill and no small amount of love. The theatre is a laboratory in which to examine and hopefully understand the human condition. And good theatre provides a platform where almost anything can happen, where the actors are free to play out our hopes and fears. The most precious gift an actor possesses is his/her ability to communicate.

It’s this connection between the actor and the audience, between imagination and reality and between cultures that we want to encourage through our productions.

Theatre legend Charles Marowitz thought we were: “a breath of fresh air”, which is praise indeed.

So what was your overall aim with the company?

To meet the demand for a truly professional international theatre in the Øresund region that attracts large numbers of residents and tourists in north Zealand and beyond. We present at least two productions a year and work with other resident British and Scandinavian actors, directors and technicians. Occasionally we are able to bring artists from the US and Britain. That Theatre has built up a good reputation for both thought-provoking drama and entertainment of a lighter nature. Some 50 percent of our audience are students and we have excellent educational material on our website which teachers and students use regularly, thanks to a great collaboration with Birgit Fiig and Christopher Bisgaard Olesen from Ordrup Gymnasium who write our educational material.

Some 50 percent of our audience has always been students of one, shape, size or form.

You must have had a few unruly school audiences over the years. Has the advent of the mobile been a thorn in your side?

Same as any theatre – just that Krudttønden is so intimate, so there’s nowhere to hide, on both sides of the stage. Glad to say that the amount of blue, mobile-lit faces in the audience is getting fewer.

But seriously, besides corona, what have been your biggest challenges at That Theatre Company?

Funding on a consistent basis. I have a feeling that we are regarded as a luxuryitem. This has restricted the number of actors I have been able to work with on each production to a maximum of four. Otherwise, we cannot afford it with only 100 seats to sell for each show.

When corona struck, you were halfway through a run of ‘The Visit’, an inhouse depiction of HC Andersen’s six-week holiday at the home of Charles Dickens in 1858. It seemed like a play destined for great things, but has corona killed its momentum?

McKenna, for example, has directed 16 of your plays, Fergal O’Byrne has written three of them, and Tom McEwan, Andrew Jeffers, Sira Stampe and Benjamin Stender have made numerous appearances. What qualities do you look for in your collaborators?

Talent. Being open to anything and never having to tread on eggshells when being positively critical.

Ian Burns and That Theatre are synonymous with one another, but who are the unsung heroes of your company?

My co-founder Julian Simpson, who is the lighting designer and still my partner in the set-up, Mark Jones, the sound designer since the very beginning, costume designer Hanne Mørup, a long-term contributor who is now at Huset’s Teater, and my wife Mette Heide – for her advice and helping us to find funding.

So, That Theatre Company is 25 years old. Did you ever think you’d be saying that when you launched in 1997?

Never thought about an end-date. Just rolled from one production to the next.

The first seven or eight years were a bit sporadic, with more or less just one production per year until 2005. Is it fair to say you had teething problems?

Any teething problems were associated with finding venues. Café Teater, Rialto and Folketeatret could not guarantee us a playing period every season. Krudttønden gave us that stability.

But then, from 2005, you settle into a run of always staging two productions, one in the late winter, another in the autumn, always with plays featuring four or fewer performers, a month’s run each time – and always at Krudttønden theatre. Is it fair to say that schedule served you well?

Really well. And two good slots in the theatre calendar. Peter Jönsson, the leader there, helped this to happen for 18 years.

Your machine is well-oiled: you always know what you’ll be performing two years in advance, and you notify local schools well in advance of your choice. How important has that collaboration been to your success?

I let teachers know as soon as we know and listen to them when they tell me what writers or themes they’ll be studying.

We are still hopeful that ‘The Visit’ has a life outside in the world and now that corona (touch wood) seems to be having less of an effect on audiences, we want to tour that production in Denmark and at HC Andersen and Dickens festivals further afield.

Clearly, there have been many special relationships over the years. Barry

When people see the name ‘That Theatre’, what do you hope they think? It might strike some that your choices of play are essentially non-pretentious, accessible and dramatic, mainly catering to mainstream tastes. But is there an aloof faction of the theatre world that might think you should have more mime, performance dance and high-brow elements.

I hope that audiences that have seen us will have been moved by the stories they’ve watched. I don’t really care what people in the so-called more aloof faction might think. I can just say that we have always worked hard trying to tell each story, and I hope we’ve achieved our aim.

What plans do you have for the future?

Well, our last play, ‘Rub-A-Dub-Dub’ in the spring, took a heavy toll on me. It was a combination of wearing too many hats. So I’ve taken a decision to begin to take a different approach: to reduce our output to one production a year, most probably from 2024, most probably find another venue, and to go on more tours – most likely with ‘The Visit’. Personally, which I am interested in more directing work in theatre, I want to focus more on TV and film for the rest of my career and to spend as much time as I can at my house on the Greek island of Antiparos.

1997-2022 He’s still got it!


In truth, many of That Theatre’s casts have been dominated by domestic talent – proof that Mr Burns has conquered his hosts’ hearts … but why not their media?

When That Theatre Company co-founder and artistic director Ian Burns arrived in Copenhagen in August 1990, it wasn’t to start a cushy three-year contract with Maersk.

The established British actor instead had a guaranteed eight weeks of work: he had no idea he had just landed in what would become his home for the next 32 years, or of the indelible impression he was going to make on the country and its people.

Of course, it helped that he met his wife Mette on his very first day in Denmark. At Rådhuspladsen, he asked her for directions – not by chance, as he waited for the “first beautiful woman” to pass before pouncing.

In Ian’s case, it was the first of many meaningful connections he made with his hosts. Quickly, he became fully fluent and integrated into society. As the mostly Danish crowd who gathered for his 65th birthday party at the Globe in February would agree, Ian is first and foremost a Scot, but he had earned the right to utter the line “This is I, Hamlet the Dane” with total sincerity too.

At home in his surroundings So who better to turn to for an evaluation of the contribution That Theatre Company has made to Danish cultural life than the many, many Danes who have worked with Ian over the 25 years of its existence.

A large number have appeared in at least two of the theatre group’s 43 productions, and CPH POST tried to catch up with as many of them as possible in a bid to unlock the secret of Ian’s success – not only as an actor, director, producer and promoter of English-language theatre, but as a husband, father, mentor, inspiration and friend.

Many internationals often complain they feel excluded in this country, but Ian is proof you can insert yourself in the very fabric – and even pass on a few words of wisdom to the locals too.

Nowhere was this recognition of his acceptance more apparent than his recipiency of Det Händer Skåne’s ‘Största Evenemangsguide’ award for 2010. And it goes both ways. When That Theatre marked its 20th year, it coincided with Copenhagen celebrating its 850th, and Ian was quick to pay a tribute. “I feel privileged to live here,” he wrote in his column for CPH POST. “Work in the form of an eight-week contract brought me here, but love has kept me here for 27 years.”

Ian’s ‘little helper’

Danish actress Christiane Bjorg Nielsen has known Ian for 30 years. They worked together on the 1997 TV2 julekalender, ‘Alletiders julemand’, of which she was one of the main stars and Ian played a bowler-hatted commuter, miraculously transported away from the London Tube by pixy magic.

She went on to co-star with Ian in three That Theatre productions – ‘Shakespeare’s Women’ in 2013 (repeated in 2015) and

‘No!’ in 2014 – as well as working on music for several other plays.

She remembers her last acting job with Ian poignantly as it was postponed due to the terror shooting at Krudttønden, which started just two hours after Saturday morning rehearsals. But reflecting on her work with That Theatre and Ian, her biggest emotion is pride.

“Congratulations to Ian and the whole crew at That Theatre. I’m happy and proud to have been part of it,” she said. “Ian never fails to make me laugh. I can safely say that you are never bored in his company. Just thinking about him makes me smile.”

Loved by ladies … and dogs Danish actress Sira Stampe has appeared in more That Theatre productions than any other actress, spanning a period of 14 years from ‘An Evening with Pinter’ in 2006 to ‘Extremophiles’ in 2020 – six in total.

“I first saw Ian as a teenager in a ‘Crazy

Christmas Cabaret’ show, in which he just stood out with his charisma, humour and timing, and I am of course grateful for the huge parts in brilliant productions he has given me,” she said.

“It’s been a formidable challenge and a gift for an actress, plus it’s allowed me to play in the language of my childhood which is such a joy to me.”

Linda Elvira, who has appeared in two That Theatre productions, is not immune to Ian’s charms either.

“He has a wonderful ability to make people feel good and to talk to anyone and make them feel seen: to wander into people’s hearts. My mother adores him,” she reveals.

“And dogs adore him. And he them. If you see a dog, you’ll see Ian.”

Friend of the fellas too But does Ian have the same effect on the Danish drenge. Well, yes is the overwhelming answer.

Peter Holst-Beck first met Ian when they starred together in ‘Hamlet Live’, a longrunning summer endeavour at Kronborg Castle in the late 2010s that brought the Shakespearean play to life in the very rooms and corridors where it is set.

“His questions regarding ‘Hamlet Live’ helped me to find solutions to problems I hadn’t considered: he was a great help,” he recalled of his first interaction with Ian.

And then together with director Barry McKenna, he then co-wrote ‘The Visit’,

St Patrick loves his dogs

arguably the crowning moment of That Theatre’s tenure: a wonderful comedy in which HC Andersen’s six-week stay with Charles Dickens in 1857 is reimagined for the stage.

He recalls how he and Ian went to a bookstore dressed up like Andersen and Dickens and loudly discussed who had the most titles on the shelves.

“The people around us couldn’t believe their eyes. And that’s when Ian started handing out pamphlets and telling them they ought to come and experience the show. That tells you everything you need to know about Ian Burns’ passion,” he recalled.

“When I was asked to go ahead with ‘The Visit’, I felt so honoured with the trust he gave me. In general, Ian really believes in the people he works with, and perhaps at first I was a little scared as I had watched earlier productions of such a ridiculously high standard. Ian puts so much energy and love into a production that he can get really frustrated if collaborators don’t honor his high standards. He is not afraid of confrontation and a talk to clear the air and make things work. And I really respect that.”

Proper method

Rasmus Emil Mortensen is another Danish actor with the utmost respect for Ian.

“Many artists I’ve met along the way have that same innate spark of life long curiosity, which manifests itself in individual ways. For Ian it’s the caring, embracing nature that I feel permeates his being when you first encounter him,” he said.

Rasmus credits Ian’s leadership with helping him to mature as a theatre actor.

“Working with That Theatre is a humbling experience, as I’ve had to take on many

roles that an actor normally wouldn’t have to worry about: from sweeping the stage to helping to build the sets,” he revealed.

“But it all served a purpose, as it forms a closer bond with the material as well as the theatre space, so you get to feel every aspect of the process, from infancy to deliverance. This definitely matured me as an artist, firmly rooting the creative process in a very real understanding of what the rehearsals and all the prep was leading to.”

The locked door

Given the work that goes into the productions, it is such a shame, says Rasmus, that the Danish media is so unappreciative of That Theatre and Ian Burns’ “immense” contribution to Danish culture life and how “a humble company is able to put on world-class shows when the odds are stacked against it”.

“It has been tough to mobilise the various ‘media gatekeepers’ who serve as keys to the Danish general public’s knowledge of That Theatre’s productions. In the productions I’ve been involved in, it’s been a closed world,” he said.

“It’s heartbreaking knowing the level of commitment the whole production team has had, only to be met with silence or closed doors from the Danish media. Perhaps it’s understandable due to the language barrier, but good theatre is good theatre.”

In conclusion, though, Rasmus knows that Ian’s reputation will stand firm as “an artist that made it, who has lived an incredible life fully committed” to his artistic vision.

“Managing life as an artist is tough, incredibly so, and to do so maintaining a positive outlook and a gentle soul within this world is a testament to the good heart

that Ian has,” he concluded. “He wants the best for his audience, his colleagues and his theatre company –this is his and his company’s legacy, and it is one of inclusion, compassion and excellence.”

A case of Jantelov?

The Danish media’s attitude is also a mystery to Christiane Bjorg Nielsen. “Schools and gyms have discovered this gift box of English-speaking theatre – but why it has been almost impossible to get the reviewers to turn up is a riddle … and embarrassing,” she said.

“Is it envy? Does the Jantelov itch a little bit? Is it because Krudttønden wasn’t an established theatre? It doesn’t make any sense. The presence of That Theatre contributes to Copenhagen’s image as an international city. And that should be something to be proud of! I’ll never forget when the Indian ambassador and many ladies in strong colours came backstage after the show. That never happened at Folketeatret!”

Christiane suspects it has more to do with the Copenhagen theatre world’s failings than Ian’s success.

“The Copenhagen theatre scene is a bit closed; the covering of culture by the media too narrow. I’m not too impressed with the way we handle culture here,” she said.

“Ian deserves a prize for his enormous endeavours to make theatre in Copenhagen more colourful whilst giving us all the opportunity to expand our horizons and hear this beautiful British tongue being spoken by brilliant actors. If he ever stops, it will leave an empty hole.”

Ought to get support Sira Stampe is in no doubt that That Theatre has played a huge role, along with

the likes of Why Not Theatre and London Toast Theatre, in what has been a golden period for English-language theatre in Copenhagen.

“I think you’d be hard pressed to find another non-native-English-speaking-country that has the same amount of high quality English theatre. But I think too few people are aware of how lucky they’ve been – not least the Danish schools,” she contended.

“In my eyes it should be recognised, appreciated and financially contributed to much more than it is. Sadly when they stop, the quality will go with them. It will be extremely hard, if not impossible, to replace them. They should all be acknowledged and cherished much more than they are. Ian in particular.”

Linda Elvira concurs. “It’s a great shame that reviewers and media have such a hard time finding Krudttønden. There’s not the same respect for Englishspeaking theatre as for Danish theatre,” she observed.

“You have to work very hard to get some attention and it does sometimes feel like you do invisible theatre. Ticket sales are so dependent on reviews and visibility and this can feel very frustrating.”

Peter Holst-Beck is also mystified. “I know no theatre that dares to put on so many world premieres and brand new plays as That Theatre does. I know English theatre is something a Danish audience often deselects and that is such a shame. They really don’t know what they are missing out on,” he said.

“I get really upset by the lack of support for an international theatre like That Theatre. He ought to have a yearly grant from the government, like so many other Danish theatres have. Ian has for the last 25 years been struggling to get the support to continue. It just doesn’t make sense, considering the extremely high standard.”

Or is it the venue?

Clearly, Ian’s Danish collaborators feel like he has been unfairly treated over the years, but have they been a little too diplomatic with their speculation?

Sometimes you need an outspoken Brit to cut to the chase, so permit us a contribution from Dawn Wall, the star of the next That Theatre production, ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, who thinks the way That Theatre has been ignored is “unacceptable”.

However, she has a theory that isn’t rooted in language issues: the venue’s to blame!

“My guess is that Krudttønden has also been home to many amateur productions over the years – ones based on a voluntary, club-type basis, with actors and directors who are new in the industry and haven’t yet maybe even had an education in the field,” she said.

“That Theatre, in contrast, works with highly successful, acclaimed and professional teams who have dedicated their lives to entertaining. It’s their life blood, and their life blood flows into it. For that alone, it deserves much more recognition.”

Surrounded by Danes on ‘No!’ in 2014: (left-right) Claus Bue, Christiane Bjorg Nielsen and Sune Svanekier

It was a night to remember when ‘A Night in November’ kickstarted the That Theatre Company era at CaféTeatret in 1997. The one-man play was the perfect vehicle for company co-founder Ian Burns to showcase talents that had wowed audiences at the ‘Crazy Christmas Cabaret’ since 1992, and before then London’s West End in shows such as the original run of ‘Blood Brothers’.

The subject matter underlined the intent of the fledgling company to take on serious subjects – in this case the sectarianism and prejudice faced by the Catholic community in early 1990s Northern Ireland. But for Ian, it was no troubles, as he breezed through a demanding script that required

him to play upwards of 20 characters.

Ian was in high demand, and a new show, ‘Jurassic Pork’ (more below!), quickly followed. Like a duck to water, after all that work, he needed all the pints he could get, and on the opening night at Folketeatret he had the honour of writing himself into the history of another burgeoning business: The Globe Irish Pub on Nørregade, which is also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The show coincided with the pub’s first week in business, and landlord Brian McKenna pretty much fell off his stool when 100+ audience members took up Ian’s offer of a pint next door after the show!

Appraising ‘A Night in November’, Politiken hailed his “great mimic talent”, describing his performance as “pure pleasure”, and the play returned the following year, this time for a run at Krudttønden. ‘A Night in November’ was directed and staged by the other That Theatre co-founder Julian Simpson, who went on to direct several more productions before disappearing to the technical area to do sound and lighting.

Added side-note: ‘A Night in November’ was written by Marie Jones, the same playwright behind ‘Fly me to the Moon’, That Theatre’s choice of play fully 25 years later!

Following the success of his debut, a legion of stars were queuing up to appear alongside Ian, and first in line was Tom McEwan, the British all-round entertainer who became a household name in the 1970s on Danish children’s television – a huge hit with a generation of kids … and their parents watching from the kitchen too.

Some 17 and a half years his senior, McEwan bonded with Burns from the off – both men grew up in England with Scottish fathers –establishing dramatic, musical and comedic timing that seemingly owed more to telepathy than anything else. ‘Jurassic Pork’ at the Hippodrome at Folketeatret would prove to be the first of ten productions in which they shared top billing over the decade to follow.

Again the mainstream media took note – it helped that Burns and McEwan had the support of the five Danes in the live house band under the direction of Christian Dahlberg – with Information praising a “completely mad and howlingly funny” production that Berlingske Tidende observed was a “sublime show crazily well structured, well paced and well timed”, begging for a second instalment of the newly-formed partnership under the direction of Julian Simpson, who recalls the musical line-up – Dahlberg (piano) Søren Brunsgaard (drums and percussion), Tom Mothe (bass) Jens Rungø and Lars Schioler (guitars) – with pleasure: “The harmonies we could do were wonderful.” It was so popular that it earned a Reumert nomination and was even on TV, although a second run wasn’t as well attended.

Added side-note: ‘Jurassic Pork’ was advertised in the recently launched Copenhagen Post, and we’re proud to say that Mr Burns has stuck with us ever since. Homers all round!

I first met Ian after my comedy partner Jess Ingerslev told me about him: “Another Brit who does comedy; you’ll probably get on.”

Together with the other member of our Monty Python-inspired trio, Jesper Klein, we went to watch Ian perform a really funny one-man show at Cafe Teatret in 1997. It was great and we agreed we should work together.

I quickly discovered what a great person he is: easy to work with, welcoming of new ideas, hard working, great sense of humour. And he’s so versatile: he can do comedy, serious drama, horror, the lot. ‘Jurassic Pork’ got some great write-ups and really put That Theatre on the map.

From there, we pursued some of our passions, like Pinter – ‘The Caretaker’ was a highlight – but were always careful to only pick plays that had two or three

performers, for budgetary reasons.

What I really like about Ian is how he always has your back on stage. As most of us get older, we tend to fluff the odd line, and he was a master at bringing you back on track like a guide dog and really saving your bacon.

It ended up being my final decade as an actor, although I still continue to perform music to this day. Always a pleasure to work with, it was truly a great time in my career.

TOM MCEWAN, 1998-2008 1997 A Night in November – CaféTeatret,1997 Jurassic Pork – Folketeatret/Hippdrome, 1997 A Night in November – Krudttønden, 1998 McEwan & Burns Show – Folketeatret/Hippdrome, 1998 Bouncers – Rialto Teatret, 1999-2000 No Man’s Land – Krudttønden, 2001 The Messiah – Krudttønden, 2001 The Caretaker – Krudttønden, 2002 Waiting for Godot – Krudttønden, 2003

Pickings in 1999 were mostly slim due to the lack of theatre space available at the right time. A production named ‘The McEwan & Burns Show’ at the Hippdrome at Easter, “as funny and crazy as Pork”, failed to sparkle, according to Simpson. “Hippdrome only had a slot after Easter available and the house numbers were considerably down – we guessed our audience preferred to be outside in the lighter, warmer evenings than in a theatre.”

Burns concurs that “teething problems were associated with finding venues. Café Teater, Rialto and Folketeatret couldn’t guarantee us a playing period every season, but Krudttønden gave us that stability from 2001”. The theatre has provided That Theatre with a home ever since –between 2005 and 2020 with two monthly runs every single year.

John Godber’s ‘Bouncers’, in late 1999 and early 2000, again with McEwan in tow, proved to be the final goodbye to Rialto Teatret, but the first hello to performers Linford Brown and Steve Smith, who between them notched up more than 10 appearances over the first decade of That Theatre’s existence. As the dream duo became the fab four, word of mouth quickly spread of the burgeoning company’s swagger under the watchful eye of director and co-founder and co-partner Julian Simpson.

Added side-note: Co-founder Julian Simpson has overseen lighting design and promotional material on every That Theatre production. Likewise, sound engineer Mark Jones has been with That Theatre since the beginning, while Hanne Mørup (costumes) and Ian’s wife Mette Heide, a documentary maker whose hits include huge Netflix productions such as ‘Amanda Knox’ in 2016 and the soon-to-bereleased Peter Madsen exposé ‘Into the Deep’, are also long-term contributors.

A year later, with exactly the same cast and crew, but now at Krudttønden, That Theatre raised the ante with its fi rst of many Harold Pinter productions: ‘No Man’s Land’. Everyone seemed pleased on opening night, with the possible exception of beloved Danish actor Jesper Klein, whose request to bring his dog to the opening night was politely turned down out of fear that it was used to being petted by half the cast.

But if that sounded as surreal as Klein and Tom McEwan’s take on Monty Python back in the 1970s, it couldn’t raise a candle to That Theatre’s second outing of 2001: ‘The Messiah’. Starring Burns alongside comedic actor David Bluestone in his fi rst and only appearance for the group, it marked a foray into audience interaction.

Both 2002 and 2003 produced just one play, but they were formidable classics, with future Why Not Theatre resident director Nina Larissa Bassett at the helm for both. Pinter’s ‘The Caretaker’, (featuring the fab fi ve minus Linford Brown), is a career high for Tom McEwan in the demanding role of the homeless man who is a habitual liar.

And then for That Theatre’s only dabble with Samuel Becket, Linford Brown returned to the fold, with Steve Smith ducking out, for ‘The Dumb Waiter’. “It was an amazing piece to do with that cast!” recalls Bassett. “We set Godot in hints of a deserted urban setting with heavy iron frames behind the stage. To me there was a slight reference to 9/11 but I’m not sure if that was only in my head.”

Added side-note: In fact, ‘The Messiah’ inspired what is believed to be the CPH POST’s fi rst ever theatre review. Praising the “Pythonesque madcappery”, it quickly ran out of superlatives, but we’re not sure whether that’s testament to their abundance of talents or dearth of ours.

It feels like it was 100 years ago! I’m the worst person for remembering things! I moved over in December 1998 and Ian was one of the first doors I knocked on.

I’d been coming over quite frequently for four years previously, to see my then girlfriend (now ex), and I visited the Danish Actors Union (where I randomly met Vivienne McKee rehearsing) and Ian was one of the people they advised me to contact.

Copenhagen compared to London … it was just so easy to go around knocking on people’s doors. Ian was really hospitable and we sat and talked, and a year later we were working together in ‘Bouncers’ with Tom McEwan and Steve Smith.

I particularly remember going out with Tom, who I didn’t really know at that time, to hand out flyers in Frederiksberg Centret, and it was like being with Tom Cruise … just so recognised and beloved.

The show was a hit and we got a lot of attention. The plan was always that we’d move back to London, but a baby changed all that and I ended up working with Ian six more times.

I’ll be forever grateful for his help and how he introduced me to everyone. He’s good at putting himself out there, and this has been so important over the years at That Theatre.

1999-2000 2001-03
BROWN, 1999-2005

“Spine chills with theatre thrills vs Big bonanza at Christmas Cabaret” was how CPH POST unimaginatively headlined the battle of the Anglophone theatres in November 2004 when the That Theatre autumn run of ‘The Woman in Black’ almost entirely overlapped London Toast’s efforts at Tivoli.

Back at the helm again, Nina Larissa Bassett –and for almost every play until the end of 2007 –there’s a noticeable budget deficit at the 100-seat Krudttønden theatre in Østerbro where the special effects consist of just a few audio recordings and a simple video monitor. Over at the 1,000-seater Glassalen in Tivoli, meanwhile, they’re dancing on high wires and quaffing champagne every night.

‘The Woman in Black’ ends up becoming That Theatre’s favourite play. As Ian Burns explains: “It ticks all the boxes for me because it demands the audience to lean in and believe in the story. It’s amazed me how successful we were at creating fear and menace from very little. Good FX and lighting, plus good acting obviously. We even took it to Ystad and played a one-off show to 1,000 people.”

Added side-note: When ‘The Woman in Black’ returns in 2013 (and again in 2018), Ian Burns ends up playing the ‘senior role’ – not too dissimilar to Michal Caine’s cinematic turns in ‘Sleuth’.

I first met Ian at an audition for That Theatre Company’s production of ‘Bouncers’ in 1999. Unbeknownst to me, however, Ian later said he’d taken an interest in me the year before because I took over a part that he wasn’t able to play due to him having to go home to the UK to look after his dying father.

That is so typical of Ian: his love, devotion and loyalty to his family, and his interest in new talent in the theatre. The latter can be

seen in how many young, talented actors he has embraced into the That Theatre family, as well as in its productions of new playwrights who are unknown to Danish audiences.

Due to his connections with teachers of English across the Danish educational system, Ian has been at the forefront of introducing younger audiences to new English language theatre. That will be one of Ian’s and That Theatre’s legacies.

Fun fact: Although I first met Ian in 1999, I saw him in a West End production of the musical ‘Lennon’ in 1986. I still have the programme from then with photos of him in it. That we should hook up some 13 years later in another country and create some memorable theatre together must be theatrical fate.

Congratulations with the anniversary, Ian. Here’s to the next 25 years!!

STEVE SMITH, 1999-2005 ‘The Woman in Black’ herself
2004 The Woman in Black – 2004 The Green-Eyed Monster – 2005 Blue/Orange – 2005 Freedom 2006 – 2006 An evening with Pinter – 2006 Heroes Inc – 2007 The Dumb Waiter & The Lover – 2007 A Christmas Carol – 2007 Urban Legends – 2008 Sleuth – 2008 - All plays at Krudttønden, except for ‘A Christmas Carol’, a co-production with CTC and the Why Not Theatre Company, at Skt Josephs Klærkesalen

Six more plays follow over the next three years: ‘The Green-Eyed Monster’ and ‘Blue/Orange’ in 2005; ‘Freedom 2006’ in 2006; and ‘Heroes Inc’ and ‘The Dumb Waiter & The Lover’ in 2007 – all directed by Nina Larissa Bassett - as well as ‘An Evening with Pinter’ in 2006.

Bar the Pinter evenings, they’re self-penned works, not by a sole writer, but a That Theatre team led by Nina Bassett. While ‘The Green-Eyed Monster’ is a homage to Shakespeare with Steve Smith taking on the role of the Bard, ‘Freedom 2006’,‘Blue/Orange’ and ‘Heroes Inc’ make up a trilogy that addresses themes and topics relevant to the current day with input from children at the city’s international schools. It’s part of a project led by Bassett to develop the youth aspect of the company.

“Ian gave me a lot of freedom to experiment with that,” she recalls. “‘Freedom 2006’ was one of my absolute darlings. I worked on the topics of freedom, surveillance, state lies and the shortcomings of the media with the actors, doing a lot of devised sessions. We had a collaboration with kids at Nørre G gymnasium, where we discussed with them and did some theatre workshops. I feel the theme is as relevant now as it was back then.”

The end of an era? Nina Larissa Bassett signs off coming up with the concept for ‘Urban Legends’ and then Tom McEwan makes his final That Theatre appearance in ‘Sleuth’. It’s telling that the first is a solo project for Ian Burns and the second

There’s also a shift with the actors. Up until the end of 2005, That Theatre pretty much used the same troupe: steady days you could more or less refer to as the ‘Pints and Pinter era’. But 2006 begins without Smith and Linford Brown. Ian Burns enlists the likes of David Bateson, a sparring partner from his ‘Crazy Christmas Cabaret’ days, to appear in ‘Freedom 2006’, but it will be several years before a new ‘troupe’ emerges.

The year 2007 ends with a joyous version of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Together with the Copenhagen Theatre Circle and the recently-launched Why Not Theatre Company, Burns and McEwan take on the roles of Scrooge and Ghost of Christmas Present – a role especially inflated for the occasion. The director, Barry McKenna, clearly makes an impression on Burns, as he is about to play more than a small role in its development over the next decade!

Added side-note: The Pinter productions provide audiences with their first glimpse of Sira Stampe, Ian Burns’ go-to leading lady. It’s a collaboration that has endured with four more appearances –most recently in ‘Extremophiles’ in 2020. Some 16 years later, Ian remains “a very dear friend, whom I’m so grateful to have in my life, as he has given me huge parts in brilliant productions”, she says.

a two-player drama. The average number of actors on stage at That Theatre is about to decrease: from three or four to one or two.

Added side-note: Yes, Tom McEwan retired. A great loss for us all. But … he’s still performing music, 82 years young, last seen at Gravens Rand last Sunday afternoon.

When I joined the That Theatre Company team I was immediately impressed with the fact that the company had access to an audience group that most other theatres of the time were desperately trying to reach: young audiences. This was chiefly due to schools wanting to expose their students to English language activities beyond the classroom.

So, we started discussing ways in which to engage them further and get them

excited about not only English but theatre itself. We created educational material, offered targeted artist talks – and started a youth project consisting of themebased performance that addressed contemporary topics such as jealousy and freedom.

The performances were devised in the group, often with me frantically putting together the script after a bunch of rehearsals. On occasion we got to do pre-

work with students on some themes, the discussions were lively and gave us plenty of food for thought.

These performances were great fun to do and allowed for a more immediate response to events occurring around us, but they weren’t very commercially viable, so funding was tight. But at the time they offered us a great artistic playground, and I’m grateful for these experiences with That Theatre Company.

2005-07 2008 ‘Heroes Inc.’ ‘Sleuth’

Asked to name his six favourite That Theatre Company plays, Ian Burns opted for three from 2009-2012, a period notable for the range of heavyweight 20th century playwrights it included, from US dramatists Edward Albee and David Mamet to Brits such as John Fowles, Dic Edwards and That Theatre go-to Harold Pinter. With Barry McKenna directing all but two of the right plays, it was a golden age to tackle some of the greats, so it was nice for Ian Burns to receive recognition in the shape of the ‘Största Evenemangsguide’ award for 2010, an annual culture prize handed out by Det Händer Skåne in southern Sweden.

One of the ‘greats’ was in ‘Casanova Undone’, which Ian recalls “as a brilliantly-written play by Dic Edwards that blew the minds of the people who came to see it”. It was also probably That Theatre’s most controversial production. “Because at the end he has a last fiddle with himself and then on orgasm dies,” recalls Ian. “‘He came and then he went,’ said his manservant, who was a woman dressed up as a man. Dic Edwards the writer came to see it and was delighted with our production.”

Another fan of the production was Brian Patterson, a British actor who found success in Denmark playing Kylling in ‘Bamse og Kylling’, who was left spellbound by the “craft of such exceptional players” in a “living theatre that will inspire, uplift, move and tickle”.

For the first time with That Theatre, the role of Casanova offered Ian the chance to portray a wellknown figure from history, and it’s interesting to note he immediately followed up with two more, each as tragic as the last: ‘outed’ playwright Oscar Wilde in ‘In Extremis’ and clinically-depressed British comic Tony Hancock in ‘Hancock’s Last Half Hour’ (another of his favourites: “I had seen this a couple of times and always wanted to have a go at telling this sad, but very funny tale of one of Britain’s best ever comedians”).

Added side-note: Between 2009 and 2011, That Theatre staged five consecutive plays featuring no more than two actors – sensible casting following the financial crisis of 2008.

In similar vein, 2011 begins with arguably the biggest theatrical downfall tale of them all – or at least right up there with ‘Der Untergang’ –Mamet’s ‘Oleanna’, a production about false assault accusations in a university setting, which the playwright maestro remarkably wrote back in 1992. The topic is still fresh today! Its original Broadway debut was greeted by calls to “Kill the bitch”, but Sira Stampe brings a softer touch to proceedings as the naive student belittled by a professor who she ends up falsely accusing.

Stampe is one of several Danish actors unearthed by Burns who you would never realise is not an Anglophone, and another is Adam Brix, who has gone on to become a successful television actor since his three plays with That Theatre, in ‘The Zoo Story’, he gave an “extraordinary performance”, according to CPH POST, which “takes us through every enclosure of the zoo. He is simian, then reptilian, a spider and then a lion, a fly and then a grasshopper. The pair frolic like chimpanzees and butt heads like billy goats. The title of the play, which you don’t want to end, finally makes sense.”

As a theatre producer/actor myself – I cofounded Why Not Theatre Company in 2007, ten years after Ian started That Theatre Company – I know just how much time, energy and lost sleep it takes to run a theatre company, especially in English in Denmark. I have the greatest respect for Ian: how he battles tirelessly on with two full productions every year and generally how he manages to navigate the not-always-so-easy theatre waters.

I’ve worked with Ian a couple of times, most

Brix then returned in ‘Shakespeare Unplugged’ – another of Ian’s favourites: “Having half the audience on stage, with an open bar was a hoot – but this time he was upstaged by the Shakespearean skills of an artistic director clearly in his element. With able support from good friend Andrew Jeffers, the Dame from Crazy Christmas in the first of several performances with That Theatre that have spanned the last decade, Ian gives an inspired demonstration on how to get the most out of Shakespearean comedy, most notably a rude mechanicals scene from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, which he recently revisited (2020 and 21) with the After Hours Company.

The era ends with a co-production with another professional theatre group, Why Not Theatre Company. Its leading actors, Sue Hansen Styles (see insert) and Angela Heath-Larsen, join Ian for Pinter and Pinot Noir.

Added side-note: Perhaps Adam Brix’s most notable TV role to date was in season 2 of ‘Borgen’ when his character has a one-night stand with PM Birgitte Nyborg following the breakdown of her marriage.

notably when Why Not co-produced Pinter’s ‘Old Times’ together with That Theatre in 2012. It was the first time our two theatres cooperated, and it was not only great fun, but also a valuable experience. We’ve always been very supportive of one another and working together only brought our two worlds closer.

On top of everything, I have huge respect for Ian as an actor and his ability to approach every role with dedication and curiosity. Like a good wine, as an actor he gets better and better! He is also very good at discovering

young talents and, again, as a producer myself, I understand not only how vital that is for a healthy theatre group, but also how much risk is involved each time and generally how tricky theatre-making is when funding and financial issues can be so challenging for small companies like ours.

Congratulations to That Theatre on their 25th anniversary! I wish them many more years of successful productions. When Why Not reaches its 25th anniversary, I’ll be a very old lady!

2009-10 2011-12 Casanova Undone – 2009 In Extremis – 2009 Hancock’s Last Half Hour – 2010 The Collector – 2010 Oleanna – 2011 The Zoo Story – 2011 Shakespeare Unplugged – 2012 Old Times – 2012 - All plays at Krudttønden ‘Casanova Undone’ ‘Old Times’ ‘Oleanna’

Finally a Reumert award for That Theatre! Sixteen years in the making, it was won by Benjamin Stender in the ‘Best Newcomer’ category for ‘The Woman in Black’. However, it was not Benjamin’s first involvement, as he worked as a stagehand on ‘Casanova Undone’.

“On the first days of rehearsals, I realised my function was to move a bathtub, four metres from stage right to

stage left, during one of the light changes. And that was it,” Stender recalls about a job that required him to sit on the front row every night.

“That was where the magic occurred; I was completely elevated to something I thought I had lost in my childhood. Night after night I witnessed an actor who took me on a journey through his voice, his language, his broad pallet of emotions, his charm and his presence on stage.”

Acting with Ian Burns two years later was a dream come true: “With only a little sound and some subtle lighting, Ian and I flew back to the thick peasoupers and eerie marshlands of Victorian England. It was acting at its ground core. I’ve never felt a closer bond to a co-actor on stage and the chemistry we had, I was told, was unique.”

Added side-note: Benjamin Stender goes on to appear in six more That Theatre plays, so watch this space.

Ian arguably enjoyed his best ever year on the boards in 2014. It started with a cantankerous turn in ‘God of Carnage’ – in something of a coup, That Theatre persuades respected British director Harry Burton to relocate to Copenhagen for two months – continued with an inspired turn in Johan Ludvig Heiberg’s Golden Age comic operetta ‘No!’, which was staged at Hof Teatret as part of the inaugural CPH STAGE festival, and then ended with a wheelchair-bound performance most paralysed sergeant majors would be proud of, under superb direction from Barry McKenna, in ‘Bully Boy’, a play penned by Denmark’s most successful export to Britain, Sandi Toksvig.

‘No!’, with Barry McKenna returning to directing duties, was both a triumph and a financial disaster for Ian. Performance-wise, he stole the show. “Every time he spoke, the passion in his eyes took you on an odyssey of campanology that he joyously brought to the music as well. Comically and physically, I have never seen him give a better performance,” wrote the CPH POST reviewer (guilty as charged). But financially, Hof Teatret

The 2013 production of ‘Shakespeare’s Women’ was so popular it returned two years later, again with Linda Elvira, who had made her debut in ‘Casanova Undone’ and Christiane Bjørg Nielsen (also in ‘No!’).

Tragically, during rehearsals, but fortunately while the cast and crew were at home, what became known as the ‘Copenhagen Shootings’ began at Krudttønden, resulting in the death of a Danish film director, Finn Nørgaard, who was attending an event in Stalden, the theatre’s music venue. “We had rehearsed until two hours before the event,” recalled Christiane, who has also contributed music to several That Theatre performances, including ‘Marathon’ and ‘The Woman in Black’. “So that was a tough day.”

Like ‘No!’ co-star Claus Bue (the director of ‘Sleuth’ and ‘The Collector’ to name but a few), Christiane is a household name in Denmark thanks to her performances in various Julekalenders, most notably in the role of nissepige Kandis four times – Ian even landed a reasonably meaty role in the 2006 edition,

Ever since I can remember I had always wanted to become an actor. I remember convincing my school mates that I was actually Superman by wearing a nylon Superman outfi t under my clothes, which eventually made me pass out during lessons because of the unbearable heat.

But then my abstract childhood beliefs deflated and I was confronted by the cold grown up reality of the world.

charged through the nose to use its theatre space, and salt was rubbed into the wound by the knowledge that all Danish-language productions at CPH STAGE were free to enter.

Toksvig ‘returned’ to Denmark especially to see ‘Bully Boy’. “There were aspects of this version which I preferred to the one we did in London,” she told Ian. “Even though I know the play well, I was still crying at the end. I couldn’t be more delighted. You deserve to do well.” And the playwright wasn’t the only one impressed, as the CPH POST named Ian’s co-star Simon Kent its first ever English-language theatre trailblazer of 2014 (with Ian in fourth!): “Simon invested angst and highenergy into a young British soldier under investigation for misconduct in this exploration of how PTSD affects veterans. We watched open-mouthed as his northern bravado gave way to a drooling shell of a man. It changed our perception of war veterans forever.”

Added side-note: A year before inaugurating the stillgoing English-language Theatre Trailblazer Award, CPH POST had a short-lived ‘Play of the Year’ award (201113) and, breathe easy Ian, ‘The Woman in Black’ won!

‘Absalons Hemmelighed’, alongside Claus Bue. And she remembers her experiences working with Ian and Barry McKenna with pleasure.

“It was – without doubt – the biggest challenge in my career playing Shakespeare in English. I was terrified and very flattered. What an opportunity. And what a great team with wonderful Barry at the steering wheel,” she recalled. “And we had a lot of fun too. Since it’s low budget theatre, we were out in the city finding the right pieces of furniture etc. That’s all part of That Theatre life.”

Next up, drawing on his experience of long-distance running (see pages 4-5), Ian directed Benjamin Stender and Rasmus Emil Mortensen (his first of four That Theatre roles) in the compelling Edoardo Erba play ‘Marathon’. Still in sergeant-major mode after ‘Bully Boy’, Ian made Ben and Rasmus run on the spot for the entire duration of the single-act play … seven times a week for a whole month, it was an extraordinary spectacle.

Added side-note: Ian again made the top five of our Trailblazer Awards, falling back a place to fifth (with Benjamin Stender fourth). But he never went back to CPH STAGE again.

Ian changed all that with an offer in 2009 to work on the That Theatre production of ‘Casanova Undone’. It was during this production that Ian showed me the power of this thousand-year-old craft we call acting. He pulled me right back into that magical world where everything was possible and everything you wish to be true is true. I went to drama school and never looked back.

Since then Ian has shared with me his love and the power of the English language, his knowledge of Shakespeare and his passion for performing. I owe Ian many thanks for all the opportunities he has given me. Not to mention he also made me fall very much in love with a certain ‘Miss Julie’. I am proud to work with such an inspiration of an actor and most of all to be his friend.

STENDER, 2013-2022
2013 2014
2015 Shakespeare’s Women – 2013 The Woman In Black – 2013 God of Carnage – 2014 No! – 2014, Hof Teatret Bully Boy – 2014 Shakespeare’s Women – 2015 Marathon – 2015 - All Krudttønden unless stated ‘God of Carnage’ ‘Bully Boy’ ‘Shakespeare’s Women’

At first glance, 2016 doesn’t look like it was a most momentous year, but in truth it marked the start of an unofficial That Theatre production that would run every June, July and August for the next four years. So, if you like, let’s regard this period as the ‘Hamlet Live’ years!

Not only did the Kronborg Castle visitor experience employ three That Theatre stalwarts – Ian Burns, Benjamin Stender (as Hamlet of course) and Emil Rasmus Mortensen (Claudius) – but it also found work for most of the actors in Ian’s phonebook: from resident director Barry McKenna and Andrew Jeffers (who shared the role of Polonius with Ian) to future collaborators Dawn Wall and Alexandra Jespersen, along with a few from the past, such as Linda Elvira. ‘Hamlet Live’ was created by McKenna and Peter

What a year! 2017 featured two stellar productions: ‘After Miss Julie’ and ‘Educating Rita’.

The spring edition, the August Strindberg classic, saw the play set in 1945 on the eve of Winston Churchill’s defeat in the general election that quickly followed the end of World War II, arguably the biggest ‘empire is in trouble’ moment after Suez – perfect for a retelling of the class struggle themes of the play. Ian once again demonstrated strong directorial talents with a young cast led by Benjamin Stender.

But the best was left to last: an outstanding performance by Dawn Wall in ‘Educating Rita’, which CPH POST claimed was “head and shoulders the best performance given by an actress in a That Theatre production over the last decade”. It carried on: “From the very first scene, she made the fourth wall’s first floor windows come alive through her curious gaze, which as the play evolved became ever more confident and knowledgeable. It underpinned a tour-de-force of comic timing, thoughtful inflection and impressive intuition. I later

Holst-Beck, who several years later would co-write and star in That Theatre’s masterwork, ‘The Visit’.

In a nutshell, ‘Hamlet Live’ was great for Ian. Three months of paid work every year and the chance to do Shakespeare (although the text was dumbed down a bit), the material he loves beyond all other, but is unable to properly stage due to budgetary constraints. Plus, he was allowed to improvise at will!

As Emil recalls: “I remember when Ian, totally unfazed by protocols, deeply hugged a very prominent headof-state, who was with his whole entourage being shown around Kronborg Castle. Much to everyone’s surprise, he loved Ian’s brash approach, and Ian proceeded to have a grand informal chat with this gentleman for the next 20 minutes, whilst the security and entourage looked on with smiles from ear to ear.”

So it was no surprise that Ian revived ‘Shakespeare Unplugged’ in the spring of 2016 as a warm-up act for his first stint – no holds Bard, you could say. In the end, the pandemic killed off ‘Hamlet Live’ … or was it Claudius?

Added side-note: ‘Hamlet Live’ really was the best cultural event Denmark has ever produced. Surely a revival is in the works now the pandemic has cleared off?

discovered she had added compelling lines from the film not in the original play – dedication indeed.”

Dawn herself remembers the experience with pride: particularly Ian’s kindness: “I was fresh out of KFTS and felt honoured to be chosen by both Ian and Barry McKenna. The trust and belief they put in me from the very first rehearsal was phenomenal. I instantly felt at home. The work we did in the four-week rehearsal period leading up to the play was cosy. Ian always came to the rehearsal space a little earlier than the rest of us and never failed to put the kettle on and bring some biccies.”

CPH Culture nominated ‘Educating Rita’ for Best Production – its most prestigious category – while Dawn was shortlisted for Best Breakthrough Actress. “That gave me a shot of confidence and the drive to pursue my acting career more tenaciously,” she recalled.

Added side-note: So who beat Dawn? None other than Rosalinde Mynster, the star of Danish television’s biggest show ‘Badehotellet’, which started in 2013 … Ah, when they said breakthrough, they meant ‘breakthrough on stage’. So Tom Cruise, who’s never done theatre, would be eligible, right?

This time Ian turns to Emil Rasmus Mortensen – don’t be jealous, Ben, after all: you introduced them – to play his leading man, opposite himself in another cantankerous role, in ‘A Number’, Carol Churchill’s thought-provoking play about human cloning. Just like ‘Bully Boy’, the premiere is followed by a panel discussion, and Emil receives some good reviews, although one appears to knock a star off because a Danish language version had been staged 14 years earlier – not the first time this has happened to Anglophone productions.

Is Ian suitably furious? Well, according to Emil, his

That Theatre’s work has touched and influenced so many lives. Without That Theatre and its range of classics and modern remakes to entertain us in English, I don’t think many internationals would have survived the winter.

Ian is a passionate and dedicated professional with abounding energy and a limitless supply of sugary treats! While he’s capable of listening to suggestions and not necessarily sticking to his own ideas, he’ll make it clear if you’re overstepping,

tempers are a glorious affair: “As joyous and as gentle he can be, the opposite can manifest in a split second when his artistic soul is stretched too far. These outbursts are all retrospectively hilarious though; oh, to see his taught face parading up and down the stage area during rehearsals, whilst he makes his characteristic “I’m stressed” throat-clearing noises – this is hilarious passion manifesting itself in the loudest way possible. These outbursts don’t last long, and when the smoke clears he is the first to apologise and laugh about it all afterwards. What a joy. Thank you, Ian Burns.”

Added side-note: ‘The Woman in Black’ concluded 2018 – its third revival. You can’t really blame Ian, can you. He’d been flat out all summer and there’s only so many times Hamlet can impale you through the arras!

and I like his straightforward nature and honesty.

He’s highly supportive: I remember during ‘Rub-A-Dub-Dub’ being nervous about singing a song – it’s like bearing my soul somehow – and he was encouraging and complimentary and really helped me to do it.

And he’s generous and giving and fair. He always insists on throwing a shin-dig at the end of every play and pays for

everyone to eat and drink out of his own pocket.

I feel very lucky to be working with him on the next two productions: ‘Fly me to the Moon’ and ‘Same Shit Different Planet’ in which I’ll be reprising my role of Sisi the android.

And I’m looking forward to Ian saying “Pøj Pøj, Podge Podge” before every show, which is so very Danglish.

DAWN ‘Hamlet ‘Educating ‘A
WALL, 2017-2022
2016 2017
2018 Shakespeare Unplugged – 2016 Proof – 2016 After Miss Julie – 2017 Educating Rita – 2017 A Number – 2018 The Woman In Black – 2018 - All Krudttønden

French! Well, not for the first time, That Theatre chooses to stage a play originally Francophone, and again it is a work by the same dramatist: Yasmina Reza, the creator of 2014 production ‘God of Carnage’. Reuniting good friends Rasmus Emil Mortensen and Benjamin Stender, with Ian Burns directing, it’s a steady start to 2019, although one of the reviewers uses his first paragraph to remind readers that a Danish group staged the play in 1998.

Really, the reviewer would have been better served enthusing that all three actors are Danish-born, and that their mastery of a language that is not their mother tongue was nothing short of remarkable. The third player, on this

In retrospect, 2020 and 2021 belonged to an unwelcome visitor, but for Copenhagen theatre circles the pandemic period started with one of the most welcome visits of the century.

It all started a few years ago, when with absolute joy Barry McKenna discovered a HC Andersen account of his unwelcome visit to the home of Charles Dickens in southern England in 1857.

While he fashioned the bulk of ‘The Visit’ –remarkably almost all the details, however farcical they may seem, are based on fact! – his ‘Hamlet Live’ collaborator Peter HolstBeck, who ended up portraying HC Andersen, assisted with the Danish elements, and the result is a delightful comedy that deserves to be enjoyed the world over.

That Theatre staged the play twice, in 2020 and 2021, and each time the pandemic did

Of course, the Fergal O’Byrne era started back in 2020 with ‘Extremophiles’, the first of a trilogy the Irish playwright had written for That Theatre, which was followed by ‘RubA-Dub-Dub’ in the spring and will conclude next year with ‘Same Shit Different Planet’. Fergal’s contribution means that That Theatre’s last four productions have all been self-penned – a remarkable achievement and such a treat for Copenhagen audiences.

And all the besties have been out in force for

Ian is a powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm, and his work in bringing quality English language theatre to Denmark cannot be understated. I was lucky to meet Ian shortly after I arrived here in 2017. I had been working as a writer in Ireland and I was totally at sea in Copenhagen – I knew no-one, could not write in Danish and had no contacts in theatre, TV or film.

In 2018, Ian’s company was staging the play ‘A Number’. I pinged him an email and he kindly agreed to read a play of mine called ‘Folie-a-deux’. In typical Ian-fashion he was very, very honest about the script and said

occasion, Peter Vinding, returns for a second stab in the autumn production, the John Osborne classic ‘Look Back in Anger’, in which yet another Dane takes centre stage with a barnstorming debut for That Theatre. Søren Højen is surely one for the future, CPH POST predicts – and it’s true that the correct spelling of his name does appear in a Google search for this timeline, so that must be something!

Also back for another stab is acclaimed British director Helen Parry, a long-time influence and mentor from Ian’s past, who first worked with That Theatre on ‘A Number’. Her influence is all too evident. “Regardless of whether it was a father bonding with his daughter, a man and woman platonically hugging, or two lovers lasciviously devouring one another, her assured hand was most noticeable throughout,” observed a CPH POST review that heaped unreserved praise onto Højen “for his truly compelling presence as Jimmy, and 22-year-old Alex Jespersen for a soul-baring performance as his wife”.

Added side-note: Alex Jespersen will again perform with That Theatre in this year’s autumn production ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, alongside good pal Dawn Wall. She first performed with Ian in 2019 in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, an After Hours Theatre Company production first staged in Ofelia Plads, which was then played in the Botanical Gardens in 2020 and 2021. Needless to say, it was a dream job for Ian.

its best to spoil the party. While Ian Burns took on the role of Dickens, Andrew Jeffers did his best to steal the show from the ‘giants of literature’ with a medley of the other roles, including “Dickens’, it has to be said, extremely unattractive wife” (CPH POST) – a part Barry then took in 2021.

But ultimately this is Andersen’s play: “While we are entreated to marvel at the innocent genius of this most beloved of writers – for example in the scene when a cricket miraculously comes to life (or does it) on his leg as he talks to an almost disbelieving Dickens – Holst-Beck is also given enough elbow room to present the sharp edges and neuroses of a deeply flawed character,” observed our reviewer. “This is one visit that you won’t want to end!”

Added side-note: Did you know that HC Andersen’s boney appearance, when he first met Dickens in 1847, provided the inspiration for the character of Uriah Heep, one of several villains in the classic 1849 novel ‘David Copperfield’.

the O’Byrne plays so far: Benjamin Stender, Sira Stampe and welcome newcomer Michael Worthman in the first, Andrew Jeffers, Sune Svanekier (‘No!’) and Dawn Wall in the second, each time with dependable Ian Burns onboard for another exercise in selfless acting at its best.

Added side-note: Fergal has just released his first book: a collection of short stories called ‘Careful What You Wish For’. Like his plays, the book promises dystopian elements pondering the fragile nature of our existence with hearty lashings of humanity.

it was “not his cup of tea”, but that he was open to reading something else.

I had just finished ‘Extremophiles’ and when I sent him that he responded quickly saying he loved it and even sent me a contract! It was then, and only then, that I let him know my name was Fergal and not “Feral”!

As soon as we started rehearsing ‘Extremophiles’ I knew Ian was someone I could really work well with. He has an enthusiasm for theatre that is totally contagious. He also has an innate stage intelligence that has been honed from

years of acting, directing and producing. We worked so well together that the next play I wrote was specifically with Ian in mind. This was ‘Rub-A-Dub-Dub’ and it was brilliantly played by Ian, Andrew, Sune and Dawn.

Ian is directing ‘Same Shit, Different Planet’, the third play in my ‘That Theatre Company Trilogy’, and I am really looking forward to what Ian does with the script as a director. And, hush, hush, he might make a cameo appearance.

I cannot emphasise how important Ian and That Theatre Company have been to my

career. It looks like these plays will now get produced in the US and further afield in Scandinavia. I have Ian to thank for all of this, and for that I am eternally grateful.

O’BYRNE, 2020-2022 Oooh,
2019 2020-21
2022 ART – 2019 Look Back in Anger – 2019 The Visit – 2020 Extremophiles – 2020 The Visit – 2021 Rub-A-Dub-Dub – 2022 Fly me to the Moon – 2022 - All Krudttønden ‘The Visit’ ‘Look Back in Anger’ ‘Rub-A-Dub-Dub’
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