by Henrik Ibsen a new version by Mike Poulton of When We Dead Awaken.
The Print Room 34 Hereford Road W2 5AJ To 17 December 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7221 6036.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 November.
Finely played but not on the most appropriate of stages.
By the time he wrote his last play, Henrik Ibsen had almost given up writing plays. Characters were reduced to the writer’s preoccupations, action virtually disappeared. They involve aspiration – Bygmester Solness and John Gabriel Borkman both climb upwards. And here distinguished sculptor Arnold Rubek goes with the one woman and model who meant anything to him up a mountain into an avalanche.
Though Mike Poulton uses the title of Rubek’s masterpiece for his new version, judgment isn’t explicit in James Dacre’s production. The pair march determinedly forwards, ignoring all weather warnings, but the stage direction “suddenly an avalanche hurtles down the mountain carrying (them) to their deaths” is evaded.
It’s possibly a victim of the staging at the small-scale Print Room. Designer Mike Britton’s slim, sloping traverse set, between tight-knit audience rows, has shiny floor and walls, creating an abstraction onto which fog rolls with rather surprising realism.
It demands constrained intensity in the playing, which Michael Pennington achieves in his continuous grumble of a life, and Penny Downie delicately, in alternating moments of agile joy and concentration.
Obsessive pairs blot-out the ordinary world in late Ibsen. From the start Pennington’s Rubek is clearly uncomfortable with his beautiful young wife Maia. Sara Vickers sits at a hotel table, looking and leaning away from him, ready in her elegant clothes to burst out angrily at his all-too-predictable criticisms.
She belongs, like Philip Correia’s hunter-Baron Ulfheim, to a life of physical stimulus. And, however much he likes danger, Ulfheim knows when to retreat indoors. But Rubek and Irene demand the absolute – a quest in which Ibsen looks back to Brand and Peer Gynt.
Art’s demands lead to a denial of life; Irene’s work with Rubek corrupted her existence. He has found no ultimate satisfaction in creation; behind the sculpted faces lie animal features. It’s a bleak, demanding play, one not well-suited to such close-up staging. Neither the normal hotel world nor the significance of the black-robed nun following white-clad Irene around is fully established. If only Downie, and the finely-detailed Pennington, bullish-mannered as the playwright himself, could have found a better setting.
Arnold Rubek: Michael Pennington.
Maia: Sara Vickers.
Hotel Manager: Peter Symonds.
Baron Ulfheim: Philip Correia.
Lars: Andrew Hanratty.
Irena de Satoff: Penny Downie.
Nun: Jane Thorne.
Director: James Dacre.
Designer: Mike Britton.
Lighting: Natasha Chivers.
Sound/Composer: Richard Hammarton.
Assistant director: Will Wrighton.