by Henrik Ibsen in a version by Don Carleton.
Orange TreeTheatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 15 December 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm & 29 Nov, 6 Dec (+ Post-show Discussion) 2.30pm.
Audio-described 27 Nov, 1 Dec 3pm.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 November.
Bustling comedy with depth given energy and substance.
Stern-looking Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen seems to have been a lively spark when young. Before the controversies about his realistic plays, the grey-whiskered afforestation surrounding features stuck immobile for 19th-century cameras, and the portrait by fellow gloom-bucket Edvard Munch, there was a sprightly mind in there.
A poet, he wrote Love’s Comedy in rhyming verse. Don Carleton’s English version sensibly lets the older and traditionally-minded folk speak prose, reserving rhyming verse for the young and imaginative.
Later plays seem stacked inside Ibsen earlier drama, even if the approach is less complex. Here is an early Pastor Manders, there an anticipation of a contrast that would still be nagging at the time of The Lady from the Sea. But overwhelmingly, in subject and use of verse, Love’s Comedy looks forward from 1862 to the great poem-drama Brand that came four years later.
Here is the embryo of Brand’s all-or-nothing demands on those around him, while the plays share characterising names for characters, from the ‘falcon’ Falk, the poet ranging above others, to the practical ‘gold town’ businessman Guldstad. And, increasingly centrally, Swanhild, named after a tragic mythical princess.
Turning director, regular Orange Tree actor David Antrobus begins by introducing Swanhild silently; Sarah Winter, a vision of youth and beauty trembling with joy and intensity. She’ll need all her resources eventually, when choosing between love and convenience in marriage.
There’s comedy, especially in Stuart Fox’s cleric, a former radical now swathed in ever-expanding family responsibilities, his confident statements fizzling out in uncertainty.
Carleton’s translation ranges from lovers’ lyricism to the persuasive argument of Guldstad, whom Jonathan Tafler brings out of his shell when seizing the moment for his purpose. But spoken rhyme easily sounds comic in English, sometimes inappropriately here. It doesn’t help Mark Arends, though he doesn’t consistently help himself; unless callow self-obsession is part of Falk’s character – in which case any woman’s better off without him.
Yet the journey from comedy to the heart of seriousness some characters experience below the social surface is clearly presented, giving fascinating glimpses of ideas that Ibsen would develop in his later famous plays.
Falk: Mark Arends.
Guldstad: Jonathan Tafler.
Mrs Halm: Julia Watson.
Anna: Jessica Clark.
Miss Jay: Amy Neilson-Smith.
Styver: Mark Oosterveen.
Lind: James Joyce.
Swanhild: Sarah Winter.
Strawmand: Stuart Fox.
Mrs Strawmand: Rebecca Egan.
Mrs Halm’s Manservant: Stuart Burgess.
Director: David Antrobus.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: John Harris.
Costume: Katy Mills.
Music: Dan Jones, David Antrobus.Dance instructor: Dorcas Walters.
Trainee director: Nadia Papachronopoulou.