The Lady From the Sea
Print Room at the Coronet
Reviewed – 13th February 2019
“Ibsen’s work is full of discomfort and awkwardness, of course, but in order for the audience to feel it, the actors need to have an inner freedom and confidence on stage which is sadly lacking here”
The Lady from the Sea tells the story of Ellida, taken as a second wife by Wangel after the death of his first, and uprooted from her upbringing as a lighthouse-keeper’s daughter to live with him and his two daughters in a small town, away from the open sea. In common with Ibsen’s other work, the play is full of ghosts from the past – of Wangel’s first wife, of Ellida and Wangel’s dead infant son, and of Ellida’s mysterious seafaring lover, who eventually appears to try to claim her. In keeping with the other great theme running through the plays, Ellida and the two girls all yearn for freedom and self-determination, and struggle against the various stifling forces ranged against them. It is unusual in one respect however: in that, although the future for Wangel’s girls remains unclear, Ellida, at the play’s close, has exorcised her demons and come to a place of health, peace and inner freedom, in such a way that she is able to remain with her husband and they can begin truly to love one another, in a way that had previously been impossible.
This production is the second collaboration with Kåre Conradi, Artistic Director of The Norwegian Ibsen Company, and the first in which the cast speak in both English and Norwegian (the last, Little Eyolf, was entirely in Norwegian). The bilingual aspect is deftly handled, and, for the most part, the surtitles projected on to the backdrop work well and are strangely unintrusive. What is noticeable however, is that the company’s leading lady, Pia Tjelta, has a physical and vocal freedom in her native language which leave her when she is acting in English. This is perhaps understandable, but unfortunately, with the notable exception of Adrian Rawlins – wonderfully believable as the beleaguered Wangel – all the other actors in this production seem physically uncomfortable throughout, and totally disconnected from the truth of the material. This has the unfortunate effect of steering many of the play’s more intense moments into near farce. Ibsen’s work is full of discomfort and awkwardness, of course, but in order for the audience to feel it, the actors need to have an inner freedom and confidence on stage which is sadly lacking here. Similarly, vocal delivery is frequently stilted and mannered, and the characters’ actions on stage too often showed a directorial desire for a pleasing stage picture rather than stemming from the intent of the characters themselves.
Nils Petter Molvær’s stunning original music featured in strong underscoring throughout, but too often was entirely responsible for generating atmosphere that was lacking on stage. And despite his best efforts, and the highly charged nature of the script, this production remained at a distance from the mercurial and turbulent sea at its heart.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Tristram Kenton
The Lady From the Sea
Print Room at the Coronet until 9th March
Previously reviewed at this venue: