You cannot write about Astrid Lindgren’s plays without first telling the reader about the librarian, Elsa Olenius. She was a good friend of Hans Rabén at the publishing firm Rabén & Sjögren. In 1944, Astrid won second prize in their competition for writers of literature for girls, and Elsa was one of the jury members. She gave Astrid a few tips as to how she could improve the manuscript – and quick as a wink, the modifications were made. The very next day Astrid visited Elsa and handed over the new version. The two hit it off immediately and became friends for life.
Collaboration with “Our Theatre”
Elsa was working at promoting good children’s literature and culture, and had started up an amateur theatre for children, called Our Theatre. She asked Astrid to write some children’s plays for her to use. In 1946 Astrid wrote her first play for this theatre – a one-act criminal comedy. After that she continued writing plays for them, about Pippi Longstocking and Bill Bergson, Master Detective, amongst others. “Elsa turned me into a dramatist”, Astrid said.
You can maybe take stuff out – but you can’t put anything in!
Astrid’s plays for children were also published in book form, the first one of these in 1950. Many have had the desire to write their own dramatisations of Astrid Lindgren’s books. There are letters kept which Astrid herself has written to various producers and scriptwriters. They give you a very clear picture of how careful she was about what she would accept and what she would not. She wrote her books the way she wanted them and she wrote her plays so that they would be a reflection of the books.
She intensely disliked the idea that others would try to embroider upon her stories. “They take it as a starting-point for their own imagination and begin to develop the story further. But I think they should keep their hands off. They’re welcome to leave chunks out, but not add stuff that might change the character of the book.” After having sought expert advice from the manager of Stockholm’s Children’s Theatre, and after having seen countless performances of her own plays, Astrid was quite certain that she knew what she was talking about. Those who were not prepared to adhere to her rules were simply advised to cancel their projects.
Her plays are still popular everywhere
Astrid Lindgren’s plays are still being performed – in old and new dramatisations – the world over. Each year, approximately 200 theatres and drama groups stage productions of one or another of Astrid Lindgren’s plays. The most popular character of all is Pippi. Ronia comes a close second, although Emil is frequently played as well. The countries where Astrid Lindgren’s plays are performed the most are Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Finland.