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Posts Tagged ‘Henrik Ibsen’

Another deeply rewarding late catch-up and the best production of this play I’ve ever seen. Simon Stephen’s new translation of Ibsen’s play removes all the fustiness and even though the lack of restraint might seem uncharacteristic for its Scandinavian setting, it serves the story very well indeed.

Wife and mother of three Nora has a secret and expends much effort in keeping it, even though the secret is effectively covering up a kind act. When it is revealed, her relationship with her husband crumbles irreparably as he is too focused on honour and what others will think than he is on the strength of the relationship and the love that led to the secret.

Hattie Morahan’s performance as Nora is a career highlight. She is child-like, naive, highly strung and fragile. The contrast, until the final scene, with Dominic Rowan’s coolly dominant Torvald makes her plight all the more believable. Rowan’s performance is also fine, as are the smaller but key roles. Steve Toussaint is an excellent Dr Rank, the family friend who becomes obsessed with Nora as his health deteriorates. Kristine is an odd character because her sudden arrival isn’t entirely plausible, but Susannah Wise makes her so. Nick Fletcher does well to make disgraced lawyer (and Nora’s nemesis) Nils both nasty and sympathetic. I’m not sure I approve of the use of a real baby, though!

I’m not familiar with director Carrie Cracknell’s work, but for me her staging here catapults her into the premiere league. Ian McNeil’s has designed an apartment that revolves to reveal drawing-room, dining room, bedroom, study and hall and its movement is brilliantly choreographed to stage a playful lovers chase, children’s games and all the comings and goings.

The long first half is a bit of a challenge on the buttocks and the bladder, but it’s well worth suffering for what must be a definitive production of this classic which really is a classic.

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It’s not often you get to see the British premiere of a 138-year old play by a world-famous dramatist. In this case, it’s probably because few theatres have the resources (or the balls) to put on such an epic. Fortunately, we have the National Theatre.

It’s a fascinating 12-year slice of history, from the beginning of soon-to-be emperor Julian’s crisis of faith in AD 351 to his death in AD 363, soon after becoming Emperor. The 20-year old goes from Constantinople to Athens where he dumps christianity for paganism. He returns briefly, to Ephesus, before he’s despatched for a sortie in Gaul (France) from where he returns to become Emperor. Though he claims to champion religious freedom, in actuality he suppresses christianity. He heads off to war with Persia, where he meets his maker on the battlefield.

Ben Power’s adaptation makes all of this very clear and lucid, with modern dialogue peppered with wit. Jonathan Kent’s epic production makes full use of the Olivier drum & revolve with giant projections from Nina Dunn adding to the impact (though the inclusion of helicopters jarred with me). Paul Brown’s design is timeless and classic and allows the drama to unfold without smothering it with concept or detail and slowing it down. Jonathan Dove’s music, using four percussionists, adds atmosphere but I found Mark Henderson’s lighting occasionally too dark. Though there is real pace, a few judicious cuts to the early years in Constantinople and Athens would have sharpened it further and cut the running time by 10 to 20 minutes to a more accessible 3 hours.

The role of Julian is a real challenge but fortunately Andrew Scott is more than a match for it. He’s hardly ever off the stage and speaking most of the time he’s on it. He acts with great passion and evolves believably and seamlessly from troubled youth to troubled tyrant. There’s a fine supporting cast of 49 (half of them from drama schools getting an early shot at the Olivier stage) plus 4 musicians – the largest I think I’ve seen on this stage – which includes the excellent Ian McDiarmid in what I think is only his second National performance.

It’s not a great play, but I’d be surprised if it has ever had such a good adaptation and production and I think it’s part of the NT’s role to stage work that would never otherwise be staged. I’m glad I had the opportunity to see it.

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I was beginning to warm to Ibsen. Good recent productions of Pillars of the Community, A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler and John Gabriel Borkman were beginning to turn one of my problem playwrights into an interesting and intriguing one. Then along comes this very obtuse play in a very stylish but dull production…..

To be honest, I still don’t really know what it was all about or what’s his point. Solness, the master builder, has learned his craft from someone who now wants him to help his son who he’s been training. Not only is he reluctant to do so, he also appears to have a relationship with the son’s girlfriend. There’s stuff about his wife’s home being destroyed and rebuilt, bedrooms for non-existent children & fear of heights. Then a young girl turns up to confuse you even further!

The Almeida stages this on what looks like soil with the bare walls of the theatre as a backdrop. There’s a big staircase but next to no props. I found Stephen Dillane too mannered and actorly as Solness, but I was very impressed by Gemma Arterton and there were good supporting performances from Anastasia Hille, Jack Shepherd, John Light and Patrick Godfrey.

It did hold my attention for 110 unbroken minutes, but I left the theatre thinking of all the other things I could have done. There have been a few evenings like this at the Almeida of late; are they losing the plot? Artistic-Director-staying-too-long syndrome?

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