By Henrik Ibsen
In a new adaptation by Duncan Macmillan.
Duke of York’s Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2n 4BG to 20 July 2019.
Mon- Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7623.
Review: William Russell 3 May.
Masterly performances in finely directed play
One of Ibsen’s less performed plays Rosmersholm in this version by Duncan Macmillan directed by with great imagination by Ian Rickson comes up as freshly minted as can be – and has all sorts of relevance to today’s world of fake news, women struggling to get equal status with men, and men in places of power exploiting those they allegedly look after with things like zero hours contracts pretending the whole to benevolence. John Rosmer (Tom Burke) is a pastor who has lost his faith, a man of influence in the community, one of a long line of distinguished forebears whose portraits line the walls of his living room. His wife has committed suicide, killed by the mill wheel outside which rumbles ominously in the background, and the room has been closed and covered with dust sheets. Elections are due, Kroll, his brother in law, (Giles Terera)the local Governor wants his support, and he has fallen in love with his wife’s friend, Rebecca West (Hayley Atwell), who has been staying with them, a free spirited, independent woman who wants him to break free from his past and fight with the liberals to change things.
Rosmersholm, written in 1886, is a puzzling play at times, thrilling at others, and one leaves shattered by how it all works out, which is par for the course for Ibsen. It is not performed all that often and one can see why – at times it provokes unintentional laughter at the goings on which are not meant to be funny. Atwell is superb as the free spirited Rebecca, a woman whose past is complicated and which comes back to haunt her, and Burke matches her as the tormented Rosmersholm, while Terera creates one of those Ibsen monsters with great power. The result is a finely acted resurrection rather than revival, one which does challenge the audience – working out what was going on took the people in the row behind at the interval quite a long time. In this version the action moves from that cavernous portrait hung living room, all shadows and beams of light, where the dead woman would sit in a chair with a view of a bridge outside over the mill race to Rosmerholm’s bedroom – sex and impropriety of affairs and desire unsatisfied is everywhere – in one of those scene transformations which both amaze and satisfy,.Designer Rae Smith has done an outstanding job creating this well off, provincial landed gentry where the past matters as much as the present world in which Rosmer is trapped. Into this sheeted, locked up world Rebecca brings light, flowers and change.
Rickson has apparently added a large ensemble of servants who come and go, are involved in the fringe of the events, who lend Rosmer’s world its reality because some of what is going on because of that election in which he might play a vital part is about lives of people like them. It is about fake news, because his support is sought not only by the Governor but by Mortensgaard (Jake Fairbrother). the editor of a radical newspaper who, when he discovers Rosmer’s doubts, ditches him as ruthlessly. Writing the year before Ibsen attacked the society in which he lived and called for an “element of nobility” to enter political life, government, members of parliament and the press, as to where this would come from he suggested it would be from our women and our working men. The play could really not be better done and although all the performances are good the evening belongs to Atwell’s Rebecca as she struggles with the men who surround her, weak, malevolent, and cruel. There is a coup de theatre at the end which quite simply did what such things should do – took the audience by surprise and yet was completely satisfying as a conclusion.
Rebecca West: Hayley Atwell.
Mrs Helsen: Lucy Briers.
John Rosmer: Tom Burke.
Peter Mortensgaard: Jake Fairbrother.
Andreas Kroll: Giles Terera.
Ulrik Brendel: Peter Wight.
Ensemble: Gavin Antony; Ebony Buckle; Piers Hampton; Maureen Hibbert; Robyn Lovell; Alice Vilanculo.
Director: Ian Rickson.
Designer: Rae Smith.
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin.
Composer: Stephen Warbeck.
Sound Designer: Gregory Clarke.
Voice: Patsy Rodenberg.
Movement: Imogen Wright.