Posts Tagged ‘Ibsen’

Love’s Comedy, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, November 2012

26 November, 2012

When Ibsen was about 21 he fell in love with Clara Ebbell, an intelligent, spirited girl two years his junior, considered to be the town’s most brilliant young lady. A similar thing happens in this play to the poet Falk and his beloved Svanhild, one of two daughters in a house presided over by Mrs Halm. All the names mean something: Falk refers to the falcon, representing liberty, freedom and victory; Svanhild to a mythological Nordic princess trampled to death by her horses after choosing true love, and Halm refers to a fortified homestead.

Svanhild and Falk, all images Orange Tree/ Robert Day

This is a battle between young love and convention, with Mark Arends giving a razor sharp performance as Falk, ever ready to respond, dispute and pierce the protective skin of others. Can he win Sarah Winter’s dreamily perspicacious Svanhild, who very ably matches his words and mockery?

Julia Watson as Mrs Halm

In the meantime there are other couples to put life in perspective. Svanhild’s sister Anna, beautifully and simply played by Jessica Clark, and the young Lind who has a clear direction to his life … until it changes under pressure from Mrs Halm and others. Those others include Styver, a civil servant and coin of low value, well portrayed by Mark Oosterveen, along with his fiancée the bold, nosey and noisy Miss Jay whose pinched intensity was ably captured by Amy Neilson Smith. And Pastor Strawmand, very engagingly played by Stuart Fox with his mellifluous voice, yet this man of straw cannot stand up to Falk, who metaphorically knocks him over. Can anyone stand up to Falk? Well, there is the wealthy Mr.Guldstad, and one must see this early Ibsen play to find out how things resolve themselves in the second half.

It’s worth every minute of our attention in this riveting production by David Antrobus, aided by Katy Mills’ lovely costumes and powerfully evocative music by Dan Jones. This was complemented by the director’s extra music for lyrics by Don Carleton, who made the excellent translation.

Wonderful imagery in the first part as Falk sees Svanhild as the warm air that will lift the falcon to glorious heights, and she sees herself as a string holding the kite — but the string can always be cut. And in the second half, the pastor’s pleading speech to Falk to remove the boulder that he has suddenly placed in his path was beautifully delivered by Stuart Fox. These performances of an early and relatively unknown Ibsen play are not to be missed.

Performances continue until December 15 — for details click here.

The Lady from the Sea, Rose Theatre, Kingston-on-Thames, February 2012

1 March, 2012

Moving inland from the sea can create a residual yearning for freedom, the wish to escape from a marriage, and this play by Ibsen has a feeling of impending tragedy. Yet given the freedom you desire, you may decide to stay on land, and tragedy can turn in a moment to a promise of stability and happiness.

Joely Richardson as the lady from the sea

Malcolm Storry as Dr. Wangel

As the husband, Dr. Wangel, Malcolm Storry portrayed an engaging, wise and sensitive man, with Joely Richardson as his troubled wife Ellida, the lady from the sea, tense and charming, yet hiding tides of emotion. They headed a superb cast, including Sam Crane as the irritatingly delusional wannabe Hans Lyngstrand, whose conceited theories of women and matrimony were hilarious. In fact this is really a comedy, and Robert Goodale as the versatile Ballested, who can do many things but always stutters on the same word, was a delight. Madeleine Worrall and Alexandra Moen were perfect as the doctor’s daughters, Richard Dillane was charmingly sincere as the Arnholm, the ex-tutor, and Gudmundur Thorvaldsson with his Icelandic accent was a threatening presence as The Stranger.

“That man is like the sea”, says Ellida at the very end of part I, and then like the tide he returns towards the end of part II saying, “From now on you are nothing more to me than — a ship in the night”. This is all in the new translation by Stephen Unwin, who also created this production, with its wonderful costumes by Mark Bouman, simple yet effective sets by Simon Higlett, beautifully lit by Malcolm Rippeth.

Ballested and Lyngstrand

Stephen Unwin is artistic director of the Rose, and is working through more of Ibsen’s naturalistic plays. His translation and direction make this home-grown production a huge success, and I look forward to more Ibsen at the Rose.

Performances continue until March 17 — for details click here.

The Master Builder, Almeida Theatre, Islington, London, November 2010

17 November, 2010

As the audience took their seats, one man sat alone on an almost bare stage. This was Halvard Solness, Master Builder, who worries about falling from the heights of his own success. Solness is the principal architect of his own building company, which he runs with a driving force and ruthless determination, while using and abusing others. One of these is the old man Knut Brovik, whose company he took over, another is Knut’s son Ragnar whose talents as an architect he refuses to recognise, and then there’s Knut’s fiancée Kaja who works for him, and adores him. At first we think there is some sexual liaison between Solness and Kaja — certainly his wife suspects it — but he happily accepts that guilt as a substitute for a far deeper guilt. Mrs. Solness is a sad and lonely woman who once lost her family home in a fire, later lost her baby sons, and now does her “duty” with little joy or enthusiasm.

Gemma Arterton with Stephen Dillane, photos by Simon Annand

Solness has helped crush the dreams of several people, but this narcissistic man suddenly meets his match in Hilde Wangel, a young woman who hikes in from the wild, declaring he knew her once, kissed her and promised her a kingdom. She was brilliantly played by Gemma Arterton, portraying her as very attractive, assertive and a bit of a minx. She charms everyone, and is the one character in this performance who is quite obviously crazy. But isn’t Solness crazy too? He was played by Stephen Dillane as a down to earth man who knows his limitations, yet is too easily enamoured of Hilde. I would have preferred a more nuanced portrayal of his character: greater imperiousness at the start, followed by a gradual descent into confusion as he succumbs to Hilde’s insane dreams. How else is one to explain his extraordinary decision at the end to do something that everyone knows is impossible for him?

John Light as Ragnar

Among the rest of the cast, Jack Shepherd was very good as the sympathetic doctor, Patrick Godfrey was convincing and entirely reasonable as Knut, the fatally ill father, and John Light was superb as Ragnar his son, coming into his own towards the end when he’s ready to defy Solness. Emma Hamilton gave a fine portrayal of Kaja, and Anastasia Hille showed Mrs. Solness to be a sad, dutiful wife, suddenly at sixes and sevens when guests arrive while she wants to run to her husband to stop him climbing the scaffolding. But when she talked to Hilde about losing her precious dolls in the fire, saying “they were alive in my heart”, there was little of the powerfully repressed emotion that I expected. The spark needed to bring Solness and his wife to life seemed lacking, so the performance revolved very much around Gemma Arterton, who brought a magnetic personality to the role of Hilde, exhibiting the charm and life that this deranged young woman brings to the Solness household.

The translation of Ibsen by Kenneth McLeish felt entirely natural, and this production by Travis Preston, with minimalist designs by Vicki Mortimer, packed everything into an hour and three-quarters with no interval. With excellent lighting by Paul Pyant, this should have been a more intense experience than it was, but I attended a preview and perhaps things will warm up later in the run.

This production continues until 8 January 2011 — for details click here.

The Master Builder, Chichester, Minerva Theatre, September 2010

16 September, 2010

“No, I can’t take it anymore” says Knut Brovik, an old architect who now works for Halvard Solness, the Master Builder. Brovik’s son Ragnar, and Ragnar’s finacée Kaia Fosli also work for Solness, and the world revolves around this highly successful, but very insecure man. He holds Ragnar down by refusing to approve his excellent drawings, and holds Ms. Fosli close to him, so we think we see the picture clearly — a man who appears to reject his dutiful wife, while keeping Ragnar down so he can enjoy the young man’s fiancée. Yet like many things in Ibsen it’s not that simple, and when a wild young woman, Hilda Wangel strides into the house all is lost.

Solness’s narcissism has finally found the perfect mirror, and his previous worries about being delusional are suddenly personified in this delusional young woman who claims he once kissed her and promised her a kingdom. Did she really meet him ten years ago and see this acrophobic man climb to the steeple on one of his own churches? He apparently believes it, so taken is he with her games, but she is the catalyst for his downfall, made reality by climbing the tower of one of his own creations. In the meantime she shows generosity to Ragnar by forcing Solness to validate his drawings, but it’s all too late for Ragnar’s father, who couldn’t take life any more.

Michael Pennington as Halvard Solness, photo by Manuel Harlan

Michael Pennington slowly brings out hidden complexities in the character of Solness, helping us understand his assertion that, “there are so many demons in the world”. His was a magnificent performance — a portrayal of great depth — and his wife was beautifully played by Maureen Beattie, allowing us to see her pain at the fire that once destroyed all her possessions. Those dolls — each one alive for her — all perished, and though she says the loss of her twin sons was God’s will, the nurseries are still kept ready for use, beds made up. Pip Donaghy was a sympathetic Dr. Herdal, and Solness’s ‘team’ — his secretary Kaja Fosli, the young architect Ragnar Borvik, and his father Knut — were all well played by Emily Wachter, Philip Cumbus, and John McEnery, as mere appendages to the great narcissist. Naomi Frederick played Hilda Wangel as an intense, slightly whacky yet surprisingly controlled young woman, though I would have preferred less volume at times.

Philip Franks’ direction gave us a drama that moved forward with energy, and this new version of Ibsen’s play by David Edgar — based on a literal translation by an expert — gave a text that flowed well and fitted the time of the drama. Costumes were all late nineteenth century, and the simple stage designs by Stephen Brimson Lewis, flipping interior to exterior, were excellent. The music by Matthew Scott gave a sense of mysterious forces at work, and the whole effect was well worth the trip from London.

Performances continue until October 9 — for details click here.

Hedda Gabler, Richmond Theatre, March 2010

22 March, 2010

If we as humans are motivated by sex, money and power, then Rosamund Pike’s Hedda shows a complete absence of interest in the first two, and her twisted use of power is what produces the final bang in this well-judged production by Adrian Noble. Pike portrays a beautiful, unbalanced, quick-witted but somewhat vacuous young woman, bored after a five month honeymoon, and opposing the attitudes of those around her. Her husband, Tesman is well played by Robert Glenister as a generously enthusiastic academic, apparently oblivious to his wife’s nasty streak, and Tim McInnerny portrays an engagingly Machiavellian Judge Brack, who would use his power to coerce Hedda into a sexual ménage-a-trois for his own pleasure, while Hedda herself cannot use her own power for anything, either useful or self-indulgent. Then we have Colin Tierney’s Loevborg, a brilliant and creative man with an addictive personality, inspiring Hedda to destruction rather than creation as she secretly consigns his masterpiece to the flames.

Hedda’s feminine characteristics are shown to be strikingly opposite to those of the three other women in the play. Anna Carteret is a bustling and sympathetic Auntie Juju, quite different from the lazily cold Hedda. Janet Whiteside is quietly self-effacing as Bertha the maid, where Hedda is an attention seeker, and Zoe Waites is warily friendly as Mrs. Elfsted, whose warm enthusiasm has helped Loevborg to recover from his alcoholism and create a book length manuscript that will stun the intellectual world. Hedda can do nothing to inspire anyone to intellectual creation, and her sadistic suggestion of burning Mrs. Elfsted’s hair off, as she once threatened to do as a schoolgirl, shows how little she has matured in becoming an adult. She is still her father’s daughter, fascinated by guns, and incapable of bearing the child that Aunt Juju intimates she is carrying.

This is a Hedda who can only oppose and destroy what others create, and the whole cast works together perfectly to give Rosamund Pike a role she fills with languid sparkle and cold beauty. The designs by Anthony Ward help create exactly the right atmosphere, and Hedda’s costume reminded me of the glorious silk dresses seen in one or two of Vermeer’s paintings. Congratulations to the wardrobe department, and of course to the way she wore it.

This production continues its tour to the Royal Centre, Nottingham on 22nd – 27th May, the Oxford Playhouse on 29th May – 3rd April, and is later expected to transfer to London’s West End.