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Posts Tagged ‘John Leonard’

Ibsen is the second most performed playwright in the world (no guessing who’s first) but this late play is one of his least performed. In Richard Eyre’s new version, it’s a devastating but brilliant eighty minutes. I left the theatre emotionally drained.

Alfred and Rita’s relationship is very rocky. Rita feels Alfred’s sister Asta and their son Eyolf somehow come between them. Alfred comes back from a spot of self-imposed solitude determined to devote more time and energy to Eyolf, but before he even begins the boy drowns and all three adults, plus Bjarne who is desperately wooing Asta, are plunged into deep grief during which the complex web of their relationships unravels.

It packs so much into eighty minutes and doesn’t feel anything like a 120-year-old play. It has great psychological depth and unfolds like a thriller. The intimacy of the Almeida increases the intensity of the drama whilst Tim Hatley’s elegantly, simple design (with superb projections by Jon Driscoll, beautiful lighting by Peter Mumford and an atmospheric soundscape by John Leonard) provides a window to the world around them.

Though I’ve seen all of the actors before, they blew me away last night, especially Lydia Leonard and Eve Ponsonby as Rita and Asta respectively, who invested so much emotional energy into their performances.

I’ve only seen the play once before but this definitive production was a revelation, placing it up there with Ibsen’s masterpieces. Unmissable. 

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Though there have been numerous TV and film adaptations, there have been surprisingly few stage adaptations of Henry James’ late 19th century novella; possibly because of the difficulty (more so in the past than now perhaps) in pulling off the ghost stuff effectively. That’s actually the major strength of this production, though it still doesn’t match Benjamin Britten’s opera; conclusive proof of the power of music?

Playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz has been faithful to her source, though perhaps more explicit, and Director Lindsay Posner and his designer Peter McKintosh have been just as respectful with their staging and design. James’ story starts with Sackville interviewing a new governess for his nephew and niece, orphaned by the death of both their parents and left with a housekeeper and governess in the family home (with infrequent visits from their uncle). As the play unfolds, we learn about the death of the previous governess and another employee, who now seem to be haunting or even possessing the children. There is more than a suggestion that in life they may have preyed on them sexually.

McKintosh’s design is excellent and Scott Penrose’s effects, Tim Mitchell’s lighting and John Leonard’s sound design are all terrific – the staging of the apparitions was good enough to get a lot of gasps and a few squeals from the audience. The performances are excellent, led by Anna Madeley’s governess (who seemed to have a cold, which somehow added something to her more emotional scenes) and Gemma Jones’ housekeeper Mrs Grose. The children, Laurence Belcher and ANO (there are three alternating as Flora!) are exceptional in what are big roles with lots of lines.

The major problem is the pacing. It’s slowed down by a lot of scene changes, despite their slickness using the Almeida’s revolve, though ironically the second half – with more scene changes – is better paced! In the end, I felt that despite the quality of it all, it doesn’t transfer well from page to stage (without music, anyway) but in all fairness, I’m not really a ghost story fan and it is, after all, an up-market ghost story.

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