THE LADY FROM THE SEA
by Henrik Ibsen new version by David Eldridge from a literal translation by Charlotte Barslund.
Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 6 November 2010.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm & Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 30 Oct 4pm.
BSL Signed 2 Nov.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 October.
Ladylike qualities battle oceanic impulses.
There has been speculation over what happened to Nora Helmer after she shut the door on her marriage and left A Doll’s House in Ibsen’s well-known 1879 play. Nine years later, in the considerably less well-known Lady from the Sea, Ibsen answered another question: how that departure might have been avoided. By 1888, though, he was working on a different level.
Every timber of A Doll’s House is planted in society. The border of land and sea in this play – suggested by bare boards in Liz Ascroft’s set, with occasional watery projections, such as the waves through which Ellida Wangel is first seen walking alone – is a landscape of the mind.
It’s a landscape Freud and others would soon be mapping out; a hinterland of repression and desire, of contradiction between respectable behaviour and apparently irrational desires. Ellida’s married to Dr Wangel, whose younger daughter Hilda (she reappears in The Master Builder, to add to the Ibsen trail) rejects her stepmother, unlike older sister Bolette, whose placid manner leads her former teacher Arnholm to a maladroit proposal.
Such social pressures – only Hilda seems free of them – are contrasted by the urge Ellida feels for the sailor who comes from the sea to reclaim her. A wild creature (and murderer) she finds him irresistible, until Wangel stops insisting how she has to behave, letting her choose, and speak, for herself.
Neve McKintosh marries Ellida’s awareness of social requirements with this inescapable inner compulsion, which she conceals within her guilt-tinged withdrawn manner. But Sarah Frankcom’s production pulls back too many of the other characters: Reece Dinsdale’s Wangel, Jonathan Keeble’s ever-polite, consistently nervous Arnholm and, crucially, Bill Ward’s Stranger – a mild figure lacking any magnetism or urgency.
If only some director could handle Ibsen’s reactionary-minded characters, Torvald in A Doll’s House, Pastor Manders in Ghosts and the artist Lyngstrand here, so audiences didn’t laugh at their now-outdated views and they could regain the force they had in their own day. It doesn’t happen in Manchester, but enough does to give life to the Norwegian’s insights into the complex modern understanding of human nature.
Ballested: Paul Kemp.
Bolette: Sara Vickers.
Lyngstrand: Samuel Collings.
Hilde: Catrin Stewart.
Dr Wangel: Reece Dinsdale.
Arnholm: Jonathan Keeble.
Ellida: Neve McIntosh.
The Stranger: Bill Ward.
Ensemble: David Bell, Christine Fitzgerald, Peter McCormack, Alan Peacock, Sophie Poulston, Stephanie Reynolds.
Director: Sarah Frankcom.
Designer: Liz Ascroft.
Lighting: Chahine Yavroyan.
Sound: Peter Rice.
Video: Jack James.
Assistant director: Kim Pearce.