Icelandic Financial Report Takes Center Stage

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A report issued by a special investigative commission of Iceland's parliament found that the county's leading politicians, bankers and regulators acted with "extreme negligence" in the lead-up to the country's 2008 economic collapse. Host Robert Siegel talks to Magnus Geir Thordarson, artistic director of the Reykjavik City Theatre, about staging a reading of the commission's 2,300-page report.


We are indebted to Iceland for the word saga. Icelandic sagas are typically prose epics about heroic deeds and family feuds. They're set in the early days of the Viking settlement of the island, 1,000 years ago. Well, there is a contemporary saga that's all about how Iceland became indebted.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking foreign language).

SIEGEL: For the better part of a week, some 45 actors are taking turns reading a 2,300-page modern epic that was made public on Monday. It's the report of the truth commission that was charged with investigating the financial crisis that has wrecked Iceland's economy. Three leading Icelandic banks failed in 2008, after having attracted assets equal to 1,000 percent of the country's GDP, and now, the country with a population of around 320,000 has an unemployment around 10 percent and the government paying billions to depositors across Europe.

The Reykjavik City Theatre is staging the reading of that report, and Magnus Geir Thordarson, the troupe's artistic director, joins me now from Reykjavik. Welcome to the program.

Mr. MAGNUS GEIR THORDARSON (Artistic Director, Reykjavik City Theatre): Thank you.

SIEGEL: I've watching some of the reading. I don't know Icelandic at all, but I find it very fascinating. Why are you doing this? Why are you staging this?

Mr. THORDARSON: Well, this is a very important report that was released yesterday, and the whole nation has been waiting for that report for months now, after the collapse of the Icelandic banks. And we felt that the theater needed to respond to what was happening in society, as it's one of our main goals, to be in good dialogue with society.

And therefore, we decided to put it on stage, just when it had been released, and read it all to the end, day and night. And in that way give the public a better possibility of realizing what was in the report and make up their mind about what has happened.

SIEGEL: I've watched some of it online. Are people in Iceland - is it on in pubs, or do you know that people are actually watching it at home?

Mr. THORDARSON: Yeah, we have got great response to the reading, and we started at 11 in the morning yesterday, and we have had almost full house since then and also throughout the night. And in addition to that, the Web site has been very busy. So we know that people are watching around the country.

SIEGEL: I'm just curious. The Icelandic crisis, the banking crisis, has had such a devastating effect on your country. For the theater company, what impact has it had on your work there in Reykjavik?

Mr. THORDARSON: Well, obviously it's had great impact on the whole nation and living in Iceland in general. Lucky, at the city theater, we have it has been going very well, and the number of audience has increased, actually, in the last two years. So I think the Icelandic nation is more looking inwards rather than at material things as before. So people seek for fulfillment for the soul and heart, rather than outward-looking things.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Thordarson, thank you very much for talking with us, and will there be many numerical tables that people will have to recite as part of this reading before it's all done?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. THORDARSON: I'm not sure. It's all kinds of text that they are reading, and some tables, as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Okay. This must be very challenging for the actors. Thank you. That's Magnus Thordarson, who is the artistic director of the Reykjavik City Theatre, which is doing a reading of the report into the Icelandic financial crisis.

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