Tag Archives: Amy Mae

When We Dead Awaken

When We Dead Awaken


The Coronet Theatre

 When We Dead Awaken

When We Dead Awaken

The Coronet Theatre

Reviewed – 5th March 2022



“Bang-Hansen’s elegant direction is right at home in the Coronet’s beautifully restored interiors”


When We Dead Awaken is Ibsen’s last play, and the master was very well aware of that as he was writing it. In consequence, it has a distinctly different tone to his earlier, better known works such as An Enemy of the People, Hedda Gabler, and A Doll House, to name just a few. The language in When We Dead Awaken shifts between the lyrical and the brutal. The play is haunting, and also elusive in its final, elegiac notes. Added to all that is the chance to see the play acted (mostly) in Norwegian, performed by (mostly) Norwegian actors. These are just some of the features that make this production, by The Norwegian Ibsen Company with the Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill, a highlight of the still evolving 2022 theatre season in London.

When We Dead Awaken begins slowly, but (spoiler alert) like the avalanche which makes its appearance at the end of the play, its gathering power draws you in and holds you fast, even in the knowledge of certain obliteration. And as always in Ibsen’s plays, the endings are not up for sunny reinterpretations. Viewed in this way, the confrontations between an aging artist, Arnold Rubek (Øystein Røger), his young wife Maia (Andrea Bræin Hovig), and his muse, Irene (Ragnhild Margrethe Gudbrandsen) take on a mythic quality as they struggle to decide what is more important. The life of an artist? The work of art itself? Is it worth giving up a chance of family and children to pursue your art? What happens if you become successful, but still feel something lacking in both art and life? What happens if success feels like death? Into this mix of conflicting situations, we can be pretty sure, Ibsen is pouring the accumulated frustrations of his own life as an artist. But there’s always at least one wild card in play in Ibsen’s dramas, and this arrives in the form of a bear hunter named Ulfhejm (James Browne). It’s Ulfhejm who separates the unhappy couple. It’s the crude and brutal hunter who entices Maia away from her husband, and, ironically, gives the artist one last chance to reconnect with his muse, Irene. And it is Ulfhjem who entices them all up the mountainside where revelations and endings come together in surprising, but somehow appropriate ways.

Kjetil Bang-Hansen’s elegant direction is right at home in the Coronet’s beautifully restored interiors and its surprisingly spacious stage. His actors move with assurance around a set design by Mayou Trikerioti that evokes fin de siécle decay —the wreckage of an excessive past spilling out on stage where no one can ignore it any longer. With some deft sound design and music by Peter Gregson, it’s easy to get drawn into a space where resort hotels become remote mountainsides in a subtle change of lights (Amy Mae.) Special mention should also be made of the ease with which the Norwegian actors manage this difficult play in two languages. Listening to a play in a language one doesn’t know is always revealing. In this production of When We Dead Awaken, Norwegian sounds clipped and precise. The lyrical struggles a bit, but then it should. And every so often the unfamiliar becomes familiar again as English words peek through the Norwegian in odd pronounciations, reminding us that modern English retains more than a few Norwegian words. Andrea Bræin Hovig and Øystein Røger establish a palpable sense of tension in their scenes in Norwegian together, which contrast nicely with the scenes in English when Irish actor James Browne is on the stage. The subtitles, when necessary, are discreetly projected onto a curtain upstage.

The main disappointment of this production is — you guessed it — the avalanche. But it is hard to argue with Kjetil Bang-Hansen’s pragmatic choice to have the avalanche always on stage, in a sense, in Mayou Trikerioti’s set design. So there is no dramatic movement on stage at the end of the play. The actors simply narrate the final moments. On the whole, this production of When We Dead Awaken shows itself up to the challenge of Ibsen’s last drama. It cleverly avoids falling into the traps that Ibsen has set for the overconfident theatre maker.


Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Tristram Kenton


When We Dead Awaken

The Coronet Theatre until 2nd April


Recently reviewed at this venue:
Le Petit Chaperon Rouge | ★★★★ | November 2021


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A Fortunate Man – 3.5 Stars


A Fortunate Man

Camden People’s Theatre

Reviewed – 14th June 2018


“a valuable remembrance of a doctor who valued and understood humanity”


In the mid 1960s acclaimed writer and art critic John Berger embarked on a project with photographer Jean Mohr to pay homage to their friend John Sassall. A GP in a small Gloucestershire village, he was not only an outstanding physician but sought to treat his patients with empathy and compassion, building security and strength within their community. Berger and Mohr, who had both been patients of Sassall, spent six weeks observing him in his clinic and on emergency visits and subsequently, in 1967, published ‘A Fortunate Man. The Story of a Country Doctor.’ Though hugely influential, their reflections bear little resemblance to the work of a GP today, overweighed by working time directives and the commercialisation of disease. Fifteen years after the book came out and following the death of his wife, John Sassall committed suicide, uncovering a different picture of this man who devoted his life to helping others.

As writer and director, Michael Pinchbeck takes Berger’s text and creates a dramatic, poetic and impressionistic enactment of Sassall’s life. The initial dialogue is interspersed with dates and page references, similar to the formality of the case studies in Berger’s book. Gradually, the narratives and theatrical ideas take on varied and imaginative shapes, describing the many aspects of his complex character, his family life and his passions. Towards the end we see a side which would have been hidden from almost everyone; Sassall’s wife does not appear in the book but here Pinchbeck shows how she quietly loved, helped and supported her husband, who in turn is broken by her death.

Together with the design (Eleanor Field), lighting (Amy Mae) and sound (Chris Cousin), actors Matthew Brown and Hayley Doherty create some affecting scenes and generate a haunting sense of loss. Sassall’s suicide is described as ‘the ending that changes the story’ and the constant motif of leaves, cards, papers and by extension, lives and values, being wantonly discarded, suggest that it’s more than the ethos of the NHS that’s lost, but something in society as a whole. Berger says of Sassall, “He is acknowledged as a good doctor because he meets the deep but unformulated expectation of the sick for a sense of fraternity.” A reasonable expectation that somehow became outlandish.

In a packed and airless Camden People’s Theatre it was hard to stay focussed on an impressionistic rendition of an impressionistic source, nevertheless, New Perspectives provide a valuable remembrance of a doctor who valued and understood humanity, and a country that valued and understood doctors.


Reviewed by Dominic Gettins

Photography by Julian Hughes


A Fortunate Man

Camden People’s Theatre until 16th June


Previously reviewed at this venue
I Want You To Admire Me/But You Shouldn’t | ★★★★ | March 2018
The Absolute Truth About Absolutely Everything | ★★★ | May 2018


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