Old king coal: The traditional ways are riper than ever for satire and sorrow during the 25th staging of Svalbard’s year in revue

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Let’s start with the show’s title since it’s about the only thing we’re allowed to reveal in advance: it can’t be properly translated into English.

Officially the title is “25 År Og Kull Verdt” (which, taking extensive liberties, roughly means “25 Years And Worth Its Weight in Coal”), based on a long-running gag equating coal with gold in Svalbard, a concept that is now truly – if tragically to the performers – ripe for a mother lode of satirical stagecraft.

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People soon to be impersonating folks we don’t know the identities of rehearse a song about (censored) Monday at Huset. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

With that we’re off and running trying to explain the landmark 25th staging of an annual revue (which has no special plans for the occasion) that revisits noteworthy happenings from the past year in skit and song.

By tradition it happens at the beginning of the weeklong Solfestuka festival celebrating the return of the sun to Longyearbyen, meaning at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Huset for this year’s show. And heaven help a journalist who tries to sneak a leak by glancing at the lyric sheets or publishing any giveaway material before the end of the second show. (Editor’s note: Why do we adhere to such censorship? Because we’re not dicks.)

Pretty much everything and everyone is fair game for spoofing in outrageous costumes from bumbling bureaucrats to clueless cruise visitors to rascally Russians. Although, as with everything else Longyearbyen, radical changes in recent years that have seen most of the coal miners vanish and an infusion of largely foreign tourism worker arrive is posing some difficulties for the revue.

The show skipped last year altogether because too many regulars were elsewhere or otherwise occupied, although it did resurface in a supporting role in May with a number of pieces performed at the 70th birthday party for Anne Lise Klungseth Sandvik, the founder and ongoing overseer of the production. She said that while “I feel more secure about what I can do” after all these years, the vanishing of the town’s traditional society is making it harder for the revue to be relevant to the newcomers.

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Anne Lise Klungseth Sandvik, center, pontificates on taking a supposedly dream job as Svalbard’s governor, only to find herself the leader of an island in deep crisis during the 2016 revnue. Photo by Mark Sabbaini / Icepople.

“I don’t know as many people in town as I did anymore and especially with many of the younger people sometimes I don’t know how to relate to what fits their sense of humor,” she said.

Tragic events including an avalanche that killed two people in 2015 have also made penning amusing compositions difficult. But Sandvik noted the revue has always featured emotional material as well as satirical and the show a few months after that incident offered an opportunity to showcase a community both suffering and overcoming its struggles.

“One of my favorite memories from the avalanche with the ‘governor’ singing,” she said, referring to an impersonation of Kjerstin Askholt, who had to cope with the crisis only a few months after starting the job. “That’s not because we were doing it because it was funny, but because of the lyrics and what she was going through.”

“It was so difficult to find a solution to this problem and we managed to find it quite well,” Sandvik said.

It was a staging that stands out for others as well when asked about their most-remembered moments over the years.

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Torgeir Mørk builds a pair of steps for this weekend’s revue shows. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

“We were standing at the back I had trouble singing,” said Laurits Finjord, a cast and composing member for the past several years. “I won’t call it a favorite moment, but it was a very emotional time.”

The participants, with only one new member among them this year, begin collaborating on material early in the year, and rehearsing and building props on stage a couple weeks before show time. Some years the ideas flow freer than others.

“It was hard to get started this year, but once we got ideas from people things started happening,” said Torgeir Mørk, a longtime weather service employee and revue regular, while building a pair of wooden stairs for the stage.

Saturday’s performance will be followed by a swing/dance concert by the Norwegian group Just in Case. Tickets for both nights are available online and at the door.

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