information in english
the birkebeinerspelet play
This 60 minute live action experience tells this true story in real Viking style. The play takes place outside in a spectacular winter landscape, and features well-known Norwegian actors, live fighting, fire, snow and lots of Icelandic horses. Seated in an amphitheatre made of snow, this is a not-to-be-missed event for any visitor enjoying Norway in winter.
The play is performed in Norwegian.
There is a market held every night both before and after the play. Here you can purchase traditional food, enjoy various refreshments and obtain souvenirs and locally produced crafts. More information here.
Mesna is situated a short 30 minute drive from the Olympic town of Lillehammer. The play taks place outdoors in the grounds of Mesna Farm, by the shores of Lake Mesna. The short walk from the farm to the arena (about 300 metres) forms part of the performance.
Transport and accommodation
Accommodation is available in the local area. Why not make a weekend of it, and sample more of the winter wonderland that the region has to offer?
Double room NOK 1150.- per person
Synopsis - the plot
The year is 1205. Norway is ravaged by civil war. Two fractions, the baglers and the birkebeiners, both claim the throne. The birkebeiner King Håkon Sverresson rules, but things are about to take a dramatic turn…
The play begins at the market up at the farm. In the royal house at Bjørgvin (Bergen), King Håkon Sverresson talks to the crowd. He has been trying to make peace with the church, but the baglers, local nobles who support of the ruling bishops, are harassing people across the land. Now King Håkon and his loyal supporters, the birkebeiners (literally “birch legs”, so called because they supposedly were so poor they had to cover their legs in birch bark to keep warm) want the help of the Swedish king to break with the church. But there is a plot against King Håkon, and he is poisoned by an unknown traitor, and falls dead.
Next, we turn to the bagler camp, where Bishop Nikolas Arnesson is very pleased to hear of the death of the king. Now the baglers have a clear path to the throne. But a bagler nobleman, Olav of Varteig, appears and tells the bishop that his daughter, Inga of Varteig, has born King Håkon Sverresson a son, out of wedlock. This illegitimate prince, little Håkon Håkonsson who is now just over a year old, can give the birkebeiners a rival claim to kingship. The bishop calls forth his henchman, the ruthless bagler leader Orm, and promises a rich reward to whoever can bring him the head of the little prince. The hunt is on.
On the other side lies the fortified town of Folkenborg, where the loyal priest Trond has kept Inga and her little son hidden since the boy was born. Now two birkebeiner warriors, Torstein Skevla and Skjervald Skrukka, appear to warn Trond and Inga that they are being hunted. They all leave to try to reach the safety of Nidaros (Trondheim) where the birkebeiners will keep the boy safe until he is old enough to rule.
The audience leave the market in a torchlit procession, and follow the ravages of the bagler soldiers along the way.
We arrive at the arena. Skjervald and Torstein are making a detour to Skjervalds farm, where Skjervald's wife, Ylva, and their little boy Eirik have been waiting. Skjervald has promised Ylva that his warrior days are over, Torstein will follow the little prince to Nidaros. But the baglers have followed them, and now they believe Ylva and Eirik to be the little prince and his mother. When Inga and Trond catch up with them, Skjervald has paid dearly for the mistake. He swears revenge, and together with Torstein and two local guides he sets off to bring little Håkon across the mountains to a safe house at the farm of the birkebeiner nobleman Audun Gyrdsson.
At Audun’s farm, people are preparing the midwinter feast when Inga appears on horseback - she got separated from Skjervald and Torstein when the baglers attacked. The drunk and lecherous Lauge recognises Inga and starts harassing her, but Inga brushes him off, and tells Audun about the hunt for the royal child. Soon Skjervald and Torstein appear with little Håkon – they ran into a troop of baglers on the mountain, and Torstein is wounded, but Håkon is safe. But the bagler tropps are closing in. Audun gathers his men and prepare an ambush, and when Orm and the baglers appear, a bloody battle ensues. The birkebeiners win a narrow victory.
Finally, Inga, Torstein, Skjervald and little Håkon reach the safety of Nidaros, where the royal warden, Inge Bårdsson, can welcome the true heir to the throne of Norway.
For general information about Birkebeinerspelet, please send your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Birkebeinerspelet 2021 cancelled because of Covid-19!
It is with a heavy heart that we have been forced to cancel the 2021 season of the Birkebeinerspelet play. Given the long-term consequences of the strict measures taken to combat the Corona pandemic, the risk of putting on a major cultural event in February is too great.
the birkebeinerne story
The History of the Birkebeiners
The Viking age in Scandinavia is generally considered to have ended in the year 1066, when the King of Norway, Harald Sigurdsson, was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge as he attempted to reclaim a portion of England. This defeat marked the last major Viking incursion into Europe. Within 50 years of this, however, Norway became the scene of a bloody and bitter civil war that was to last for over one hundred years.
The Birkebeiner Ski Race
In 1932, the Norwegian love of the mountains, skiing and heritage led to the birth of a unique event — the Birkebeiner Ski Race between Rena and Lillehammer. Honouring the historic journey of Håkon Håkonsson in 1206, all participants have to carry a 3.5 kg backpack — a symbol of the young royal baby. Both the Birkebeiner Ski Race and the Birkebeiner MTB Race follow the same 54 km route from Rena to Lillehammer. The ski race is held every year in March, and has over 16,000 participants, amateurs as well as professionals. Most are Norwegians, but there are also people from other countries taking part. In 1993, the Birkebeiner MTB Race was held for the first time. Everyone from teenagers to 70-year-olds, both women and men, cycle the 82 km from Rena market square to Håkon's Hall in Lillehammer.
mesna in winter
birkebeinerne film trailer
from middle-earth to mesna
Photographer and author Ian Brodie has many years’ experience in the film industry. He has specialised in film location tourism, and has published a number of location guidebooks that showcase the beautiful places in his native New Zealand where both the The Lord of the Rings and the The Hobbit film trilogies were shot.
In 2012 he was invited to speak at a film tourism conference in Lillehammer, having never been to Norway before. At the conference he met representatives from the Norwegian film industry including Paradox Film. In 2014 they asked him to be unit stills photographer on Birkebeinerne. The rest, as they say, is history. Ian now spends many months every year in Norway working on a number of varied projects.
- I fell in love with Norway immediately, says Brodie. – To me, it was a lot like home, like New Zealand, another Middle-earth, but with a long history and a broad mythology that actually inspired Tolkien.
- The people, too, are similar: sensible, practical, reserved till you get to know them, but very dependable. Norway and New Zealand are the only places in the world where I can sign a contract with a handshake, laughs Brodie. – It sounds old-fashioned, but I love that.
Coming to Mesna to work on the Birkebeinerne sets, Brodie also had to get close to the horses.
- I was really very nervous of horses! Says Brodie. – But coming here and seeing how they behave, how smart they are, how sensitive and how gentle, I fell in love with them too. And of course, the Icelandic horses are not so big, he smiles. – Photographing them, I got to know how unbelievably controlled they are, they can come charging at the camera and stop dead with the smallest of signals. I learned to trust the horses. And the riders!
- And of course I met this incredible couple, Camilla and Kristoffer. They had worked with their horses on the Birkebeinerne film, got hold of some of the sets from the movie and wanted to develop film location tourism at Mesna. They got funding from Innovation Norway, and brought me in as a mentor and advisor. And sitting around the table with the family, the idea of an outdoor play came up. And so it grew from there.
Brodie had no previous experience of outdoor plays. He had been to see Peer Gynt at Gålå, but nothing in the winter. When he told people back in New Zealand about the idea they just thought “those crazy Norwegians!”
- But at the same time, their eyes were like dinner plates, says Brodie. – A play outside in winter, with horses, and fire, and live action… It has an obvious world-wide appeal! I mean, wow!
So it doesn’t matter that the actors speak Norwegian?
- Not at all! The spectacle, and the amazing location by the lake, it makes it a unique event regardless of whether you can follow the dialogue. The main thread of the story is universal, the protection of a baby, and the Viking associations also makes the story accessible to an international audience. The emotion is there and keeps your attention all the time, and the action happens right in front of you!
What is it about this place, and about Norway, that you think might appeal to an international audience?
- I am a landscape photographer. I love the quiet of Norway in the winter, and the stunning landscapes, that are even more stunning in the winter, the starkness of the snow, and the way the sky becomes even bluer... There are colours here in the winter that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. But what is also special here is the connection of people to these landscapes – everywhere there are traces of people you can see that history is there, mythology becomes real. And that is also what you get when you watch this play from your hay-bale seat up on the snow tribune: you not just being entertained, you are part of something that’s alive and unique.