Controversial Swedish Theater Staging World's First Full Bible Play

The Gothenburg City Theatre in Sweden will premiere a five-hour play about the Bible on Friday that will be the first to combine the Old and New Testaments into one stage production.

Playwright Niklas Raadstroem shared with the AFP that he spent two years working on the grand-scale project, aptly named, "The Bible." After extensive research, Raadstroem found out that although there have been Biblical plays before, such as Max Reinhardt's 1936 "The Eternal Road" (based on the Old Testament) there has never been a stage play that combines both Testaments into one production.

"It is very exciting. And it is amazing that we have actually managed to do this. It was a gigantic task," Raadstroem said.

There will only be 15 actors participating in the production, but they will play nearly 90 different roles. The current running time for the play is estimated at four hours and 40 minutes, but even at such a length, Raadstroem said it was a challenge compressing such an extensive collection of stories into one play.

"This is not just a book, but an entire library of books ... and the different parts often seemed like they were trying to push and pull us in different directions. It hasn't been easy," he said. Raadstroem explained that in order to accuratley adapt Scripture into "The Bible," he tried to "ignore the past 2,000 years of interpretation history and go straight to the Bible texts, the stories inside."

He added that the production could be enjoyed by both believers and non-believers alike, as it presents the material in a serious manner without irony, and offers an interpretation of the Bible that is meaningful and relevant today.

"I hope to de-dramatise the conflict often seen between the secular and the holy. The Bible is relevant to everybody," he said.

Sweden is often identified as one of the most secular countries in Europe -- in a 2005 Eurobarometer Poll, only 23 percent of Swedish respondents expressed a firm belief in God.

The play will be staged several times a week through May 8 at the Gothenburg City Theatre, also known as the Stadsteater, which is Sweden's oldest city theater.

Gothenburg City Theatre is no stranger to controversial productions. According to its official website, the theater was renowned during World War II for choosing a repertoire that was often at odds with the city's more cautious and conventional political approach, staging productions with clear contemporary political messages.

During the 1970s, the theater was also at the forefront of political and social movements in Sweden, and its plays spurred debates and garnered media attention regarding the theatre's repertoire policy.