Henrik Ibsen’s Lady Inger – The Space, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Henrik Ibsen

Director: Mark Ewbank

Revivals of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s works tend to concentrate on the latter part of his oeuvre. Lady Inger of Ostrat, one of his earlier works, is not considered part of his major canon, but this quasi-historical work set amongst the warring countries of 16th-century Scandinavia shares some of his common themes. Most notable of these is placing a woman at the heart of control and decision-making, realms traditionally dominated by men.

At the core of the play, the titular Lady Inger (Kristin Duffy) is a widow who, by virtue of the land she owns, holds the pivotal power in the land. She is courted by Thomas Everatt’s Olaf Skaktavi to help fund an uprising by Swedish peasants and by Dane Nils Lykke (Ivan Comisso) who would rather she maintains the status quo, in which Denmark (which effectively rules the Norwegian territories) retains its influence.

Throw in some familial intrigue – the womanising Lykke is said to be the cause of the death of Inger’s daughter Lucia, unbeknownst to her other daughter, Juliet Ibberson’s Elina, who bickers with and then falls in love with the Danish rogue – and there is potential for the sort of sociopolitical drama that could appeal to fans of Shakespeare or A Game of Thrones and every derivative work in between.

Whether that potential is realised is another matter. Although production company Ottisdotter (named after the real Lady Inger’s surname) has “streamlined” Ibsen’s five-act work, matters rarely proceed at anything faster than a snail’s pace. Character’s motivations are rarely revealed through character and more often through long monologues in language that feels less classical and more just drily old-fashioned.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the latter half of Act I, in which Comisso spends a substantial amount of time on stage alone, working through Lykke’s strategy for handling Lady Inger. It doesn’t help that in his initial meeting with Ibberson’s spirited Elina (whose appearance generally enlivens the pace) the characters show little in the way of chemistry.

The speed improves with the arrival of Joe Lewis as a messenger who turns out to have a larger role to play in both Lykke and Lady Inger’s plans. Lewis brings with him a lightness and energy that brings out the same in Comisso, finally giving the political drama an injection of life.

But while that renewed vigour is welcome, the production struggles to maintain it into the second act. This part of the play is much more incident-packed, as plans, double-crosses and sheer bad luck combine to deliver hope and tragedy in equal measure. So many scenes get bogged down in talkative inaction that the sense of urgency, of building to a climax, rarely arrives.

What the second act does show is the extent to which Lady Inger is prepared to go to secure her own goals. Duffy’s matriarch is often stiff and formal but shows a side with Ibberson’s Elina that reveals a depth to the character that would be welcome elsewhere.

All the languorous storytelling does its best to disguise that there is a plot structure that has the potential to be a pacy, thrilling ride with enough twists and turns to fascinate. And although director Mark Ewbank creates an imaginative use of The Space, seating the audience in the round and making use of the former Presbyterian chapel’s gallery, it cannot make up for the deficiencies elsewhere.

Continues until 8 July 2023

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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