Writer: Henrik Ibsen
Adaptor: David Watson
Director: Polly Findlay
Reviewer: Richard Hall
Henrik Ibsen belongs to a small group of influential late 19th Century writers, including Strindberg and George Bernard Shaw, who are credited with creating the so called, “problem play”. The plays written during this period and well into the beginning of the 20th Century highlighted social issues and raised controversial and sensitive moral questions. In recent years some of these plays have been reimagined to focus on themes pertinent to the present day.
In this thrilling new version by award-winning playwright, David Watson – the period and setting may have been updated to the present, but much of what Ibsen originally set out to discuss, notably the role of women’s identity in a male dominated world and the ambiguities of modern day religion and marriage remain firmly and explosively intact.
The central role of widow, Helen Alving, is played in this excellent production by the acclaimed stage and television actress, Niamh Cusack. Years after her husband’s death, Helen is still haunted by his misdemeanours as a serial adulterer and alcoholic. When her son, Oswald, returns home after a long absence, showing symptoms of a life-threatening illness inherited from his father, Helen is faced with ghosts from her past that threaten to destroy her and everything that she holds dear. The dense plot and extremely dark and oppressive mood make for long intense periods of heightened drama which are handled expertly by Director, Polly Findlay and a first-rate cast. The quality of the production is such that although it runs for almost two hours without an interval, the pace and intensity never flag, resulting in a production which is utterly compelling from beginning to end.
In the comprehensive programme, which also contains a full copy of the text, Polly Findlay is quoted as saying the production is ‘a beautiful marriage of European and British theatre’. The production features passionate, visceral acting combined with a breathtaking and stunning set design by German Designer, Johannes Schultz, which is wonderfully audacious, bold and imaginative.
Set in a large Scandinavian town house in a small coastal village; the entire contents and fabric of Helen’s life are laid bare for all to see. Home’s main stage almost buckles under the sheer weight and size of the town house’s tall, spartan walls, large staircases and concealed landings, the latter providing perfect hiding places for characters to eavesdrop on conversations that will change their lives forever.
Cusack, who is extraordinary as Helen (one of the best stage performances to be seen in Manchester this year), heads an striking cast that responds superbly to Findlay’s disciplined direction and Watson’s skilfully reworked text. As Oswald, Ken Nwosu is the ideal combination of artistic dreamer and tortured youth; his scenes with Cusack and Norah Lopez Holden as Regine are riveting, spellbinding and deeply moving. Jamie Ballard as Pastor Manders and William Travis as Jacob, provide terrific support in making this one of the finest ensembles this reviewer has seen at Home since it opened.
In dealing firmly head on with euthanasia, illegitimacy and incest, 100 years on since it was first performed, the play has lost none of its ability to shock, This wonderful adaptation respectfully acknowledges Ibsen’s original intentions as well as allowing David Watson to put his own contemporary and sympathetic stamp on the play.
Runs until 3 December 2016 | Image: Contributed