Tag Archives: Henrik Ibsen

Theatre Review: A Doll’s House

1 Jun


Plot: Nora loves her husband above all else. But when she risks her reputation in order to save his, she begins to question her devotion and finds herself fighting for her own life.

Zinnie Harris’ new version is set against the backdrop of British politics at the turn of the last century, in a world where duty, power and hypocrisy rule.

When I booked this play in November, I already knew Gillian Anderson was cast as Nora and I would have booked it anyway because of my ongoing quest to watch as much Chekhov, Shakespeare and Ibsen whenever possible. I always get drawn into the characters that Ibsen has created notable ones like Borkman, Bernick, and Stockmann. For his heroines, after Ellida, from The Lady from the Sea, Nora has now become my next favorite.


Gillian Anderson was just stunning and gave a very fine performance as the devoted wife then changed woman. Her Nora is beautiful yet vulnerable. And that purple velvet dress she wore in the second act, ehr, do they have that in my size? Toby Stephens as husband Thomas Vaughan played his self righteous role of a politician with much bravado, kudos as well to Anton Lesser as the faithful Dr. Rank, and I thought that the sub-plot rekindled romance between Kelman and Christine -excellently played here by Christopher Eccleston and Tara Fitzgerald was superbly played.

I still would have liked to see a faithful adaptation of the play although this new version was quite engaging. Overall an inspired and wonderful production with high octane performances from all members of the cast.

A Doll’s House: 4/5
Playing at the Donmar until July 18

Theatre Review: The Lady from the Sea

9 May

Plot: The Lady From The Sea is one of Ibsen’s most lyrical, hopeful and rarely performed plays. Married to the respectable Dr Wangel (Jonathan Hackett), Ellida (Lia Williams) has a secure, comfortable but land-locked life. She is constantly drawn towards the sea. As memories of a past love threaten to overwhelm her will she suffocate on dry land, or find freedom across the ocean?

It’s my second time around at the Arcola celebrating their Ibsen season. I saw the excellent An Enemy of the People last month and had high hopes that this production will be just as satisfying. I find that after watching an Ibsen, I come out always entertained and although emotionally tortured at times, I seem to have gotten used to this unsettling feeling. What I like about the Arcola is it’s creative flexibility with the way they use their limited space to complement the production. In Enemy, there was this makeshift bath that run through just below stage level that made us feel as if we were transported to some coastal town in Southern Norway. This time around the main stage was right in the middle and structured in a way so that the actors can come out from 4 different angles, and still make us believe that it was in some small town by a fjord in Northern Norway.

Now onto the beef of the play. Ellida is a study of a woman on the verge of madness- emotionally disturbed but passionately portrayed here by Lia Williams. This is when it hit me that Ibsen has an abundant resource of men and women characters, and the more I watch them come alive on stage, the more I appreciate his analysis of these exciting characters, Ellida being one of them. In this Frank McGuiness version, the transformation didn’t come from Ellida, but from her husband Dr. Wangel portrayed with sincere accuracy here by Jonathan Hackett. The supporting cast of Sean Campion, Chris Moran, Jim Bywater, Alison McKenna and Fiona O’Shaughnessy whom I saw previously in the Enemy made for another strong performance of this beautiful, lyrical Ibsen classic.

The Lady from the Sea: 4/5

Playing at the Arcola until May 31

Gobbets – Henrik Ibsen

22 Apr

“The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population — the intelligent ones or the fools? I think we can agree it’s the fools, no matter where you go in this world, it’s the fools that form the overwhelming majority.” – An Enemy of the People, 1882

Theatre Review: An Enemy of the People

14 Apr

“The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.” -Dr. Stockmann

Plot: When Dr Tomas Stockmann (Greg Hicks) discovers dangerous impurities in the water supply feeding the town baths he insists that the baths will be closed while repairs are carried out. The initial support for him dwindles when it becomes clear that local businessmen, led by his own brother, the town’s Mayor (Christopher Godwin), are facing enormous expense and loss of visitor income. With friends and allies turning against him, Tomas is branded ‘An Enemy of the People’. The play has many resonances for today’s society, touching on the power of the media and the need for political expediency balanced against economic considerations.

The play written by Henrik Ibsen, in an adaptation by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and directed by Arcola’s Mehmet Ergen, is a timeless drama about the true cost of honesty. Dr. Stockmann wants to protect lives by telling the truth, but his revelations may cost his town its livelihood. Is it possible to be an honest man in a town built on lies? Or is ruthless consumerism always going to win out over morality?

Whew! Among all my favorite playwrights, I have to say that Ibsen always makes me sweat. And think. This is now my 3rd Ibsen production, where my love affair started with Pillars of the Community (2006, National Theatre) followed by John Gabriel Borkman (2007, Donmar), up next is Arcola’s The Lady from the Sea and then the Almeida’s Rosmersholm, both in May and I know what’s going to happen again, I’ll sweat and then I’ll think some more.

I have to quote the Guardian’s Michael Billington and agree with him that this production is Ibsen stripped to the bone delivered with rare urgency. The first act seemed promising for Dr Stockmann, played quite compellingly here by Greg Hicks, after he found out about the contaminated baths and was so assured that everything will go his way as his friends and supporters rallied behind him. And then we see it spiralling all the way down from there with the morality questions, would closing the baths which would mean lost revenue for the village is actually for the greater good or is it worth to make one an enemy of the people because of one’s honesty?

I truly loved this production and was quite impressed with Hicks performance who played a sympathetic character as Stockmann but was not about to give up. The actress playing his daughter Petra, Fiona O’Shaughnessy, reminded me of Rachel Weisz but with a husky voice. It was also my first visit at the Arcola which is much closer to home as it’s just up the road in Dalston. As we were ushered in Studio 1, we were warned not to trip over the body of water as we made our way to our seats, which of course was part of the props as the baths. Clever huh? For a Monday evening the crowd turnout was quite impressive but I wasnt surprised with this because of all the very good reviews that the play has been getting. It’s all posted on the Arcola bar for us to see. I particularly liked that the program which also worked as a play text, without too much adverts. I’d say other theatre companies should follow suit.

If you haven’t seen an Ibsen play, this is your chance to do so. Just don’t mind the sweating and the thinking.

An Enemy of the People: 4/5

Playing at the Arcola until April 26

Theatre Review: John Gabriel Borkman

9 Apr

A play by Henrik Ibsen in a new translation by David Eldridge
Directed by Michael Grandage

Synopsis: Disgraced and destitute following a fraud scandal and imprisonment, John Gabriel Borkman (Ian McDiarmid) paces alone in an upstairs room. Downstairs, his family are trapped in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a household bound for explosion. A scorching indictment of 19th century capitalism, Ibsen’s penultimate play paints a devastating picture of selfish ambition.

It was my first time at the Donmar and was looking forward to this evening mainly because I am watching Ian McDiarmid. It was a very intimate theater which sits about just 200 people and we were right there literally breathing the same air as the actors. This is my second Ibsen play, the first one being Pillars of the Community at the National Theater last year. It made sense that since John Gabriel Borkman was written in 1896, almost twenty years after Pillars (written in 1877) that you can see and feel a different Ibsen in his later work. Although author Paul Binding who has written many articles about Ibsen says that in JGB, he was also probably revisiting his first prose-drama of contemporary life in Pillars.

From Peter McKintosh’s production set of birch trees, snow falling relentlessly outside the Borkman’s estate and the continuous hiss of wind, you can immediately sense the bitter and cold atmosphere of a Norwegian winter that doesnt seem to be any different from what is inside the house – the drawing room is dimly lit by lamps and with very little furniture, and as soon as we see the characters of Gunhild Borkman (Deborah Findlay) and Ella Rentheim (Penelope Wilton) you can easily cut the tension between these two women with a knife. And understandably so as Ella, who was once Borkman’s lover, has been looking after the Borkmans’ son Erhart (Rafe Spall) post-scandal and both women want the Erhart for themselves.

This is not a very easy play to watch, because Ibsen’s Borkman is dark and depressing. I was surprised to find a few humorous moments between McDiarmid’s Borkman and David Burke’s Vilhelm Foldal. One scene that I wished I was sitting somewhere else was to see Penelope Wilton’s reaction to McDiarmid’s “a woman can be easily replaced”, after she just told him how he killed every feeling of love in her heart since they parted. In this scene the theater was so silent you could hear a pin drop.

Ian McDiarmid was brilliant as Borkman, as he was pacing the room all that I could think of was this is Darth Sidious and we are in the same room! Penelope Wilton was outstanding, I loved her in Calendar Girls and as Simon Pegg’s mom in Shaun of the Dead but it’s her powerful performance as the scorned and ailing spinster Ella that will always remind me of what a great actress she is. I still can’t get over how the play ended, a dead man, and two shadows.

I am definitely looking forward to watch my third Ibsen.

John Gabriel Borkman: 4/5

Playing at the Donmar Warehouse until April 14.