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Knut Hamsun Hunger

Dramatic adaptation of Knut Hamsun’s eponymous novel (1890) by Frank Castorf

New production

In German with English surtitles.

End of the performance approx. 00:30 am

Departure in front of Reichenhaller Strasse 4
(Buses depart to Perner-Insel, Hallein, 1 hour before the performance begins and
return directly after the performance.)


  • 04 August 2018, 18:30


  • 06 August 2018, 18:30
  • 10 August 2018, 18:30
  • 11 August 2018, 18:30
  • 13 August 2018, 18:30
  • 15 August 2018, 18:30
  • 17 August 2018, 18:30
  • 20 August 2018, 18:30

Print programme (PDF)


Frank Castorf, Director
Aleksandar Denić, Sets
Adriana Braga Peretzki , Costumes
Lothar Baumgarte, Lighting
William Minke, Sound design
Andreas Deinert, Kathrin Krottenthaler, Camera
Jens Crull, Maryvonne Riedelsheimer, Video editing
Dario Brinkmann, William Minke, Boom arm
Sebastian Klink, Artistic Production Management
Carl Hegemann, Dramaturgy


At the centre of Knut Hamsun’s novel Hunger, published in 1890, stands a young man far removed from any binding commitments and apparently without friends or family, a young man with high expectations of himself, in search of success, of ideas that can take fire and be turned into money. Here Hamsun is reworking experiences he himself had as a young emigrant to America, even if the story takes place not in New York, but in Kristiania, later Oslo. The protagonist, who goes by different names, starts out, as did young Hamsun, with intermittent literary work in newspaper features. And – also like Hamsun – he fails spectacularly. His texts are rejected: too rarified, too hard to understand. Money eludes him. He must literally pawn the last button on his jacket while maintaining at the same time the appearance of a normal middle-class existence. Instead of success and career, there ensues hunger, literal, genuine hunger. Without money, it is impossible for an individual on his own resources to live. And the gnawing hunger, about which no-one may ever know, even though it regulates his whole existence, makes it more and more difficult to produce anything that can be put to use.
His behaviour grows peculiar and delusional, his surroundings are transformed in a ghostly way, becoming disjointed and unstable. The difference between reality and hallucination begins to dissolve. A life on the edge.
A contradictory, unrestrained stream of consciousness and an extreme but artistically rendered description of oneself and the world from the perspective of hidden material deprivation are found in this novel, one in which Hamsun made his own destitution the theme, and in such a way as had never existed in literature to that time.
So it was that Hunger became his first great success; it brought abrupt fame to this writer and freed him from hunger once and for all. His next novel, Mysteries (1892), no longer deals with hunger and survival, but with a rich man who takes his own life. He is the same character we met in Hunger, but now he finds himself in a different situation: the struggle for survival is replaced by a crisis about the meaning of life.
The Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård sees in Hamsun’s early novels not so much a depiction of the contrast between the struggle for survival and the yearning for death as a description of ‘the America of the soul’. ‘The world they portray is our own as it was when it was created.’ Hamsun observed Western man coming into being, the atomized individual that developed, prototypic-ally for the spread of worldwide capitalism, in the America of the late 19th century, and he showed the fundamental contradiction in that individual. That is what makes these novels so fresh and contemporary even today.

Hamsun became a novelist known all over the world, and he continued writing into his old age. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1920. When the Nazis occupied Norway, he saluted them as liberators and hailed them in newspapers and other media. He gave his Nobel Prize plaque to his friend and admirer Joseph Goebbels as a gift. He changed his mind about the German occupation of Norway in 1943; he had come to recognize it as a brutal reign of terror. When he met Hitler on the Obersalzberg, he berated the dictator roundly. 
After the war, Hamsun’s punishment for collaboration was a stiff monetary fine, which led to the financial ruin of his family, and his reputation as Norway’s national poet was permanently damaged. His undeniable sympathy for National Socialism may serve to confirm a thesis advanced by Hamsun’s admirer Theodor W. Adorno to the effect that capitalism must with a certain degree of necessity lead to fascism.

For the Salzburg Festival, Frank Castorf is directing Hunger with some members of his earlier ensemble from the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz on Perner-Insel in Hallein.

Carl Hegemann, Translation: Vincent Kling