Writer: Henrik Ibsen
Director: Sofia Jupither
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
Stark set, stark theme and stark performance. Ibsen’s play about a family in calamity is a tough to take – the insights and cutting jibes at human selfishness are shiveringly accurate and the delivery is forceful. A heady mix, and a superb creation from the Norwegian Ibsen Company and the National Theatre of Norway – playing in London for the first time in 18 years.
This 90minute production is split into thirds. One, almost a dark fairytale about how selfish parents lose the child they seemingly don’t deserve. After returning from a period of meditation and walking in the mountain, author Alfred Allmers explains to his wife Rita that he has renounced the world of letters to become a better father to their crippled son Eyolf. Her rage at being made to share his love reveals bitterness and jealousy at the core of the marriage – meanwhile Eyolf is shown care and affection by a strange lady, and is lured away to drown. The next two parts deal with the fallout of this event. We dive into the scary depths of the Allmers’ marriage and personalities, their relationships between themselves and also Alfred’s sister Asta and friend Borgheim, before reaching an end to this complex modern parable.
Performed in Norwegian with English surtitles, the shape and rhythm of the language aids comprehension of the story rather than just conveys it. The plosive sounds of Kåre Conradi as Alfred Allman mourning his son is incredibly powerful, as is the hypnotic explanation by the Rat Wife (Andrine Sæther) of how she lures rats to the middle of lakes to drown. The change displayed from Pia Tjelta when she goes from possessive, grasping and unhappy wife in the first part, to distraught and bereft mother after Eyolf’s disappearance is wonderful – to watch that fall was a super theatrical experience.
The set design from Erlend Birkeland of pale stripped back planks and a distressed back-wall offer a straight line backdrop to a jagged story. There’s nothing smooth about this play, and each hook and point is a potential lesson to be learned. The play is a vivid exploration of selfishness, parenthood, loss, class and family. Presented by masters of their art, it is a shame only four sets of London audiences will see it on this visit.
Runs until 21 April 2018 | Image: Contributed