by Henrik Ibsen new version by Frank McGuinness.
London Classic Theatre in association with Theatre Royal Winchester Tour to 3 July 2011.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
Review Mark Courtice 18 March at Theatre Royal Winchester.
Home turned into austere Hell.
Oswald Alving has returned to the home he was kept out of when he was young, so he wouldn’t come under the influence of his vicious father. Now his widowed mother looks forward to welcoming her son back as she arranges for the opening of an orphanage named as a memorial to the old goat. Oswald famously carries a sinister inheritance from his father; he knows he is dying of syphilis.
Ibsen was characterised as degenerate for using the heritability of what was both unmentionable and incurable to signify the damage that vice and the hypocrisy that masks it does to society. Of course he was fiercely moral; the orphanage burns down and Oswald is the end of a line. Ibsen may extend the definition of sin but the wages of sin are annihilation.
Michael Cabot’s austere production is of Frank McGuiness’s version. The villagers including the Pastor have Irish accents; the queasy mixture of venality, hypocrisy and hierarchical religion make good sense here, as does Mrs Alving’s struggle with political small-mindedness.
Helene Alving’s drawing room is sketched by Kerry Bradley’s design, with cream painted walls, bare of decoration, and is dotted with uncomfortable chairs. For a young man back from Paris who wants to be a painter nothing could be further from welcoming. The technical sparseness means there is little of the outside world so important to Ibsen’s theatrical vision.
Cabot rigorously pares things down, so – although it’s decently and neatly done – the production seems in awe of the classic status of the play. This bleakness is carried through into the performances, especially those of Brendan Fleming as the ghastly Pastor Manders and Abby Leamon as the young maid, Regine. These feel one-paced; he is never driven by more than unfeeling religiosity and she has little of the equivocation (or the sensuality) that the character needs – all that’s left is the drive to escape her constrained surroundings.
There’s more complexity from Hasan Dixon as Oswald, and Pauline Whitaker as Mrs Alving responds to this so the final scene is frightening and moving.
Regine: Abby Leamon.
Engstrand: Peter Cadden.
Pastor Manders: Brendan Fleming.
Helene Alving: Pauline Whitaker.
Oswald: Hasan Dixon.
Director: Michael Cabot.
Designer: Kerry Bradley.
Lighting: Paul Green.
Costume: Philippa Mumford.