John Gabriel Borkman by Henrik Ibsen. The Bridge Theatre, Potter’s Field, London to 25 November 2022***. William Russell.

One can see why Nicholas Hytner chose to put on this late Ibsen drama about the disgraced financier now out of prison still dreaming of a comback and battling with his wife, her sister, once his lover, over their son and nephew who could be the future. But the result in spite of Simon Russell Beale delivering a majestic Borkman – the stars are for the performances rather than the production – Lia Williams wonderfully fragile as the damaged Ella, and Claire Higgins as a fierce Gunhild, the wife who is intent on recovering her social status – somehow never quite takes off. Maybe, although Sebastian de Souza is a spirited Ekhart, the son they all see as the future, never quite achieves the heights. Maybe it is that Beale, for all the magnetism he brings to the stage, is somehow too cuddly, not ruthless enough. Worth doing with lots to talk about afterwards it is one of those admirable but disappointing resurrections because it really is not a revival. Things are not helped by a handsome but massively grim wasteland of a set in which the Borkmans live with apparently next to no furniture. They are dwarfed by acres of drag concrete walls which tower above. Borkman is, however, certainly a man for our times – disgraced tycoons there are in plenty – think Conrad Black – and as for politicians, well no need to name anyone.

The new version by Lucinda Coxon sounds fine but somehow what we are watching, the people, the way they react is of the time the play was written rather than today and Ekhart’s escape route – he runs off with Fanny Wilton (Ony Uhiara), an older woman who knows she won’t keep him, maybe likely then is unlikely now. Also if you up date to the present you need mobile phones as all of them would have had one.

Director: Nicholas Hytner.

Set Designer: Anna Fleischle.

Costume Designer & Associate Set Designer: Liam Bunster.

Lighting Designer: James Farncombe.

Sound Designer: Gareth Fry.

Music: Camille Saint-Saens – piano arrangement by Frank Liszt.

Production Photography: Manuel Harlan.

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