Duke of York’s Theatre
Reviewed – 28th May 2019
“Terera has a magnificent presence between the glib walls of Rosmersholm”
This timely revival of one of Ibsen’s least performed plays is an astonishing study of moral guilt, political struggle and the omnipresence of the past. Reminiscent of his earlier work ‘Ghosts’, this shows Ibsen at his dark and daring best. Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation of Karin and Anne Bamborough’s literal translation delivers Ibsen into the twenty-first century, creating a witty, if not a little wordy, drama for our times.
Weighed down by the memory of his dead wife, John Rosmer (Tom Burke) shares his vast estate with a “liberated woman” in the form of Rececca West (Hayley Atwell), his former wife’s former friend. Rosmer’s brother-in-law Andreas Kroll (a superbly on-form Giles Terera) has political aspirations, but his call for support is radically rebuffed as Rosmer turns his attention to the progressive politics of Peter Mortensgaard (Jake Fairbrother). Invoking concepts such as representational democracy and ‘the will of the people’, MacMillan makes sure this play speaks to the current climate, and some knowing chuckles from the audience suggested this relevance did not go unnoticed. Kroll is a fascinating figure, charmingly aristocratic yet stubbornly conservative, and Terera has a magnificent presence between the glib walls of Rosmersholm.
At the heart of the drama though is Rosmer and West’s relationship: can they break free of the past and learn to love each other? Rae Smith’s stunningly decrepit design makes it seem unavoidable. Portraits of the Rosmer family cover every wall, a constant reminder to John of his family’s legacy. Neil Austin’s lighting is similarly evocative, with striking shafts of light breaking through the dusty windows to expose the age and dereliction of this once great home.
Ian Rickson’s production will please West End crowds looking for a timely reminder that politics runs in circle. Rosmer and West struggle to forget the past – are we too quick to? Although I’m no fan of weighty naturalism, with a gorgeous set and memorable performances, this production has plenty to offer.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Johan Persson
Duke of York’s Theatre until 20th July
Previously covered by this reviewer:
The Lady From the Sea
Reviewed – 21st October 2017
“Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Ellida is hypnotic, lending elegance to her deep-rooted longing that teeters on madness”
“The Lady From The Sea” is probably Ibsen’s most symbolic work. It is centred on Ellida, the female protagonist caught in a conflict between duty and self-determination. Stuck in her marriage to Doctor Wangel, she longs for the sea. When a former lover returns from years of absence, she is forced to decide between freedom and the new life she has made for herself.
The action is transplanted from the icy Norwegian fjords to a sultry Caribbean beach, where the stifling heat adds to the feelings of being trapped, as relationships untangle and are knotted back together again, in Elinor Cook’s adaptation. Cook’s text, coupled with the strength of the performances, draws one into a fresh way of looking at the play. The language has an easy, contemporary feel bringing a crisp clarity to Ibsen’s themes: the divide between men and women. Even back in the late nineteenth century Ibsen called this “the modern tragedy”, presciently claiming that “a woman cannot be herself in today’s society” because it is shaped and dictated by men.
Kwame Kwei-Armah, the next artistic director of the Young Vic, is at the helm. His uncluttered direction gives ample space for the comedy to tease through. Ibsen’s observations were often so acute they were funny – and Kwei-Armah embraces this. Throwing some tropical heat into the mix adds an extra, spicy lightness of touch. However, the Caribbean setting is not fully explored, and is often pushed into the margins. There is scant reference to the location and, during the more introspective moments, Lee Curran’s moody lighting too often dips back into the cold North Atlantic.
The play’s action takes place on the day that the doctor’s daughters from a previous marriage are preparing the celebrations for their dead mother’s birthday. Ellie Bamber and Helena Wilson excel in playing the daughters, their loyalties torn between the memory of their mother and the grudging acceptance of their stepmother. Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Ellida is hypnotic, lending elegance to her deep-rooted longing that teeters on madness. Finbar Lynch is a master at portraying the dilemma Elida’s husband faces. His commanding performance, just a few feet from the audience, impels us to share his turmoil: his struggle to reconcile his self-perceived duty as a husband with that of giving his wife the freedom of choice. Initially he believes that withholding that freedom of choice is protecting her, and it is only when he finally relinquishes his hold on her that they are both freed from the ghosts that haunt them.
There is a surprising simplicity to the play, which is its appeal. The key themes are the subject of countless pop songs in today’s world. There are tragic moments but it’s also a play about love. But unlike many a pop song this play is perfectly pitched. There is a harmony in the collision of the two worlds; the spiritual and the political. “Paradise is all well and good until you’re trapped in it” echoes one of the characters. The strength of this production lies in the overriding feeling that Ibsen could have written this yesterday. Testament, not only to the playwright himself, but also to the team that have brought this pearl to the Donmar Warehouse.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Manuel Harlan
THE LADY FROM THE SEA
is at the Donmar Warehouse until 2nd December