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Sunday 16 June 2019

Rosmersholm, Play, written by Henrik Ibsen directed by Ian Rickson, Duke of York’s Theatre London 8* out of 10

Ian Rickson and his team present a watchable and timely production of this dark Ibsen play supported by a strong acting ensemble.

Norway in the 1880s. Rebecca West (Hayley Attwell) is a resident at Rosmersholm, for centuries the family estate of the Rosmers. She has originally moved in as a companion to Beata, the wife of the head of the household and local Lutheran pastor, John Rosmer (Tom Burke), at the suggestion of Beata’s brother, Professor Kroll (Giles Terara), since Beata was becoming psychologically frail, but a year ago Beata has committed suicide by throwing herself from the bridge by the water mill. Kroll visits John Rosmer for the first time since the suicide. He has decided to be a candidate for the conservative Party at the upcoming elections and he seeks John Rosmer’s public endorsement for his party as Rosmer is influential as the scion of the foremost family and as the pastor. But Kroll finds that under Rebecca’s influence Rosmer has changed his past austere political views and is inclined to lend his support to Peder Mortensgaard (Jake Fairbrother), the editor of the progressive newspaper, whom Rosmer had previously named and shamed in front of his congregation, with tragic consequences for Mortensgaard. 

With its portrayal of political intrigue with the use of moral outrage over the past lives of opponents or those connected to them and the power of the media Ibsen’s play remains highly relevant. The strongest most interesting character in this play is Rebecca West. Although as a woman she has neither the right to be a candidate in elections nor the right to vote she has strong political convictions which she can only put into actions by her influence over John Rosmer. The male protagonist in Ibsen’s play often is deeply damaged in his emotional and sexual capacity by austere Norwegian protestant upbringing. Ibsen’s male characters would be a lot more content with a bit Danish Hygge and humour from their southern Scandinavian friends, although this may be to the detriment of the dark drama of Ibsen’s plays.

Thankfully Ian Rickson’s production is a straightforward story-telling of good quality with no tricks and heavy hinting towards contemporary parallels. Acting performances are of a high standard and the set by Rae Smith reflects the stifling atmosphere of Rosmersholm which suffocates attempts to bring in the fresh wind and the prospect of a life of purpose and contentment through political, moral and sexual liberation. Hayley Attwell as Rebecca and Tom Burke as John Romer have chemistry. Giles Terara (a black actor playing a Scandinavian bourgeois) is a lively and charismatic  Kroll.

An enjoyable evening in the theatre for those of us who like quality plays from the early 20th century in a straightforward production with excellent actors.

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