“a thrillingly inventive show, with strong and engaging performances from every cast member”
The programme promises an ‘electric’ performance ‘steeped in queer rage exploring how the most famous female character of all time is trapped within a life chosen for her’. This off-putting hyperbole shouldn’t stop you rushing to see this terrific re-imagining of Ibsen’s famous 1891 masterpiece.
Turn-of-the-century Norway has become present day London in Harriet Madeley’s sassy new play which is a co-production with A Girl Called Stephen Theatre, which has as its mission ‘queer/womxn led theatre for Reading and beyond’. The script is sharp and witty with heaps of semi-poetic dialogue that includes a knowing line about White Company bedlinen and another about school mums with ‘puffa coats and keep cups’. In this production there’s also clever use of a pair of microphones that heighten the audience’s appreciation of key passages of dialogue.
The cast of five is directed by Annie Kershaw. She has put together a thrillingly inventive show, with strong and engaging performances from every cast member. Anna Popplewell fizzes with magnificent frustration as Hedda, stuck in a new marriage with an innocent young academic called George. This may be her first stage role, but she has distinguished film and TV credits including the Chronicles of Narnia for Disney and Love in a Cold Climate for the BBC.
Mark Desebrock’s George (Globe on Tour, Beauty and the Beast at NT and many more) is likeably naïve and a perfect foil to Hedda. Ryan Gerald makes George’s publisher Brack a vividly gangling wide-boy. George’s former male colleague and new rival Eilert Lövborg has become Hedda’s lover Isla in this show. She’s played with energy and conviction by Jessica Temple (Peter Pan, National Theatre and roles at Nottingham and Bristol). Natalie Perera strikes just the right note for Thea, Isla’s slightly goofy and foolish lover and co-worker.
Designer Amy Watts has devised a striking set with a deep well almost like a boxing ring at its centre. The simple design enables some impressively creative lighting design by Murong Li. The sound design by Jamie Lu is similarly smart, with some subtle atmospheric sounds that ramp up the tension just when it is needed.
In the thrilling second half, the light-hearted verbal fisticuffs shift up several gears. To escape her trap, Hedda must ‘do something beautiful’. An impressive denouement is achieved at speed and with the shocking impact of the best classical tragedy.
“offers little artistic innovation but provides plenty of food-for-thought”
The continuation of Clapham Fringe Festival sees director, Laura Dorn stage a devised adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Uncannily appearing amidst a week of climate change revelations, The Enemies surrounds the alarming discovery of a plastic factory employee and researcher, Laura (Laura Vivio), prior to a company presentation to the townspeople. The question of whether the factory should halt its plastic production brings a tense debate between Laura and her fellow employee and sister, El (Eleanor Neylon). Johnny (Jonathan Parr) comically attempts to act as a moderator between the sisters while managing the press.
The play undoubtedly captures the essence of Ibsen as the audience find themselves privy to a conversation on entering. Slightly mismatched is the acting style of both El and Johnny, whose tendencies to overact, particularly in the opening sequence, give the impression of a non-naturalistic piece that perhaps ventures towards commedia dell’arte with stock characters. Nonetheless, the issues of business interest versus public health that are dealt with, demonstrate a strong grasp of the themes of Ibsen’s original work and a promising narrative to develop.
The apparent lack of direction at the beginning of this piece makes for a slow start. Featuring extensive dialogue that is characteristic of Ibsen plays, the long monologues that owe to the dramatic style unfortunately seem under-rehearsed. False starts and stumbles in the delivery of lines from all of the cast prevent the audience from willingly suspending their disbelief as they watch the actors visibly attempt to memorise lines.
A lack of attention to the set design in this piece contributes to its amateur feel. Ironically contrasting the highly detailed sets that Ibsen’s plays are renowned for, a prop, draped with black bin bags hangs from the wall. Some thought into how this could be integrated into the set before it finds use in the climax of the piece would prevent this from standing out unnecessarily. The scenery is equally baffling, consisting of a sofa and table dressed in plastic sheets. Perhaps a very literal interpretation of how an office in a plastic factory may look, this makes it hard to grasp where the action is taking place and blurs the boundary between what is public and private discussion.
The Enemies offers little artistic innovation but provides plenty of food-for-thought. The impactful message that concludes the play draws attention to the well-researched facts and figures it aims to convey. Revisiting Ibsen’s 19th century ponderings on the monopoly of truth, exposing hypocrisy and the voice of the masses, The Enemies is an exciting play to be developed in today’s cultural climate.