by Henrik Ibsen adapted by Arthur Miller.

Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 31 October 2015.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30 October.

Triumph of a theatrical triumvirate.
Two long-practised strengths of recent Octagon Artistic Director David Thacker (now Bolton University’s Professor of Theatre) have been the plays of Henrik Ibsen and Arthur Miller. So a Thacker production of an Ibsen play as adapted by Miller ought to have an unusual depth of understanding.

And it is a thrilling celebration of theatre as a crucible of clashing ideas. Every actor – several, familiar Octagon faces – gives what might be the performance of their careers. Every role slides smoothly into place, every voice makes its point in the disharmony that erupts among the Stockmann family and more widely in the small town that’s about to rake-in a fortune as a health spa when its medical officer discovers the health-bringing water is actually full of disease-bearing pollution.

Miller’s version emphasises that Dr Tomas Stockmann is back from austere years in Norway’s cold north, finally enjoying a comfortable home. When the gratitude he expects for preventing disease turns out to be anger from his brother, the mayor, followed by the local liberals – horrified by the cost of putting things right – reneging on their support, Stockmann’s public meeting is hijacked as the populace turn violently against him.

Rob Edwards’ cheerfully naïve doctor responds with growing anger and over-the-top claims about his superiority. Edwards humanises him, his anger dipping into half-spoken assurances to his family.

Barbara Drennan’s Katrine, his wife, is an independent-minded person trying to keep peace in the family with clear-minded, good-natured sense, while Peter Birrell, slick and politic as Mayor Peter Stockmann has a smooth-tongued plausibility. It’s easy to imagine Tomas provoking him when they were children and to understand how he developed the belief he is behaving rightly.

Among the venal liberals of the opposition press, John McArdle’s printer Aslaksen is outstanding. With his mane of grey hair he establishes the character’s insistence on moderation far more assertively than the whining also-ran Aslaksen often becomes. McArdle is credibly head of the property-owners’ association.

Comfortable domesticity is gradually stripped-away from James Cotterill’s set, while the multiple overhanging window frames remind that communities can be constricting as well as benevolent.

Morten Kill: John Branwell.
Drunk: Colin Connor.
Katrine Stockmann: Barbara Drennan.
Tomas Stockmann: Rob Edwards.
Billing: Harry Long.
Aslaksen: John McArdle.
Captain Horster: Marc Small.
Hovstad: David Nabil Stuart.
Petra Stockmann: Anna Wheatley.
Ejlif: Jacob/Tom H/Tom M/Che.
Morten: Adam/Joshua/Louis/Joseph.
Citizens: Alra North Students.

Director: David Thacker.
Designer: James Cotterill.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Movement/Associate director: Lesley Hutchison.
Assistant directors: Ben Occhipinti, Beth Eccleshare.

2015-11-03 13:10:06

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