Deserving of a huge audience
“This is larger than life theatre in every sense; song and dance, music and lighting, and all with the quarry as a powerful backdrop. The alternation between the large tableaus and the subdued scenes is done effortlessly by Mulvik and the other actors, helped by a professional production.”
Source: Grimstad Adressetidende
Photo: Antero Hein
“Nils Golberg Mulvik is close to a complete Peer Gynt. With enormous energy and vitality in both voice and body, he brings this mythical Ibsen figure to life in a performance that, overall, is one of the most convincing I have seen from a Peer Gynt production.
The ensemble lifts Ibsen’s brilliant text to the heights it deserves.”
Photo: Antero Hein
Ibsen’s final play explores an artist’s farewell
This drama about a sculptor looking back on his life is powerfully staged by the Norwegian Ibsen Company.
By Mark Lawson, THE GUARDIAN (2 March 2022)
In the last year of the 19th century, when Henrik Ibsen began a new play, his family – reports Michael Meyer’s biography – feared he would not finish it. Perhaps already weakened by the vascular illness that took hold soon after When We Dead Awaken’s completion, the writer was agitated, rushed.
The play is Ibsen’s shortest and like Shakespeare’s The Tempest, to which it alludes, can be seen as an artist’s farewell. Norwegian sculptor Arnold Rubek returns, with his disappointed younger wife Maia, to a favoured resort hotel where they encounter Irene, model for the marble masterpiece that made Rubek rich and revered, and Ulfhejm, a primally direct bear-hunter, who might have wandered in from Peer Gynt.
That echo is one of multiple textual self-references: Rubek’s sculpture is, like the manuscript in Hedda Gabler, a surrogate child. Elsewhere, a remembered child and a mysterious lady reference Little Eyolf and The Lady from the Sea.
Combining subtitled Norwegian with some scenes in English (representing the distinct dialect of the bear-hunter, powerfully played by James Browne), Kjetel Bang-Hansen’s production for the Norwegian Ibsen Company, a glorious cultural exporter, plays on and around a Beckettian heap of debris designed by Mayou Trikerioti. This encourages the reading that the characters may be dead, revisiting people and scenes in a sort of Groundhog Night.
Although Ibsen couldn’t have known that the 20th century would see him as the second greatest dramatist after Shakespeare, Rubek’s clear sense of his work having been wrong and wasted feels upsetting. The critic Edward Said, in his last book, On Late Style, used When We Dead Awaken to counter the common view that artists at the end achieve serene expertise and reconciliation: Ibsen, a great revolutionary of theatrical realism, seems determined in this play to explode theatrical convention again.
Øystein Røger’s Rubek compellingly walks the tightrope between artistic arrogance and doubt, and captures the sculptor’s monkish wariness towards women, equally wary of Ragnhild Margrethe Gudbrandsen’s earthily dangerous Irene and Andrea Bræin Hovig’s floaty but knowing Maia. The older woman seems to represent art, the younger life, both abused and ruined by Rubek.
“The actors, delivering often heightened lines with an attractive naturalism, communicate the emotions so clearly that the subtitles often feel like mere underlining.”
When We Dead Awaken proves it – Ibsen was astonishingly modern
Performed mostly in Norwegian, the Coronet’s staging comes across as a rich study in female self-determination shaped by patriarchal ideals.
By Dzifa Benson, THE TELEGRAPH (2 March 2022)
Henrik Ibsen, widely cited as the father of modern theatre, is the most performed playwright in the world after Shakespeare. Most theatre-makers, drawn to his masterful excavation of the deep psychological recesses of the human mind, have encountered his work only in translation from the challenging source language. Translation from one language to another is a slippery thing because inevitably, what’s lost in transition from one language to another isn’t just single words. It is also, especially for a play, the mode of expression from one culture to another.
That’s why this rare revival of Ibsen’s final, most confessional play, When We Dead Awaken, (which received its world premiere in London’s Haymarket Theatre in 1900) in a co-production between the Coronet Theatre and the Norwegian Ibsen Company, is something of a singular treat. To hear the cadence of Ibsen’s words in the original Norwegian, surtitled in (and occasionally eliding between) English, and performed by a Norwegian/British cast, feels as though it brings us closer to his idiosyncratically idiomatic language. Acclaimed director Kjetil Bang-Hansen clarified adaptation in combination with designer Mayou Trikerioti detritus heaped set, further gives us a sense of a specifically Norwegian mode of expression.
What does it mean to be still alive and yet dead inside is the basic premise of the play. On another elementary level, it’s the story of how four people, especially women, change partners in the pursuit of desire, freedom, art and ambition. But this is Ibsen’s swansong, written when he was ill and reckoning with the emotional cost of his life’s work.
The playwright is embodied in the figure of Rubek (Øystein Røger), a celebrated but ageing sculptor who returns to Norway in the depths of winter to holiday in the mountains with his young and restless wife Maia (Andrea Bræin Hovig). Their relationship is filled with ennui – “even the noise has something dead about it” – mostly because Rubek is cold and distant while Maia feels like she has died inside after four years of marriage waiting for Rubek to take her “up into a high mountain and show her all the glory of the world”.
There, Rubek bumps into his former model, Irene (Ragnhild Margrethe Gudbrandsen), who inspired his sculpture Resurrection Day – his most famous work and the last time he felt any true artistic quickening. Sensing a possibility for redemption, Rubek seeks to revivify his old relationship with Irene whose love he rejected years ago. For her part Irene, who is ruled by her sensual nature, felt she died when Rubek spurned her and says he’s “only an artist, not a man”. In the meantime, Maia goes off with Ulfheim, the bear-killer (James Browne) and antithesis of staid Rubek, whose animalistic masculinity makes her feel more alive.
In lots of ways, this production is about women and how they wrestle with a self-determination that is inevitably shaped by patriarchal ideals. The threads of its genesis can be found in Ibsen’s other plays centring women such as A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler. It’s remarkable how modern thinking these women are given the play was written in 1899 and correspondingly, Gudbrandsen’s and Hovig’s are the stand-out performances.
Despite a cavil about how convincing I found Røger as a once-fiery artist, this production still demonstrates the timelessness of Ibsen’s work.
“…this production still demonstrates the timelessness of Ibsen’s work”
By Theo Bosanquet, THE STAGE (2 March 2022)
Ibsen’s final play, which premiered in 1899, is full of foreboding. Centring on a sculptor and his muse, whose reunion prompts reflections on love, art and what it means to be alive, it feels very much like the meditations of a man who knows the end is near.
Marking the return of the Norwegian Ibsen Company to the Coronet, it’s performed primarily in Norwegian with surtitles, neatly projected on to a curtain at the back of the stage. There’s something about hearing Ibsen’s lines spoken in his native tongue that lends them such music; you don’t need to be bilingual to enjoy the tune.
Kjetil Bang-Hansen’s production, which uses his own economic adaptation, plays out on a set that features a rubble pile centre stage. This is representative of the mountain that Arnold Rubek (Øystein Røger), the sculptor, and Irene (Ragnhild Margrethe Gudbrandsen), his muse, scale towards the end of the play. They are seeking to free the creativity that Rubek says has been locked away ever since she left after the completion of his masterpiece, which she repeatedly refers to as “our child”.
Also on the mountain is Maia (Andrea Bræin Hovig), Rubek’s wife – who at the beginning of the play discusses with her husband their need for separation, in recognition that she has been unable to take Irene’s place. But she herself has the need for freedom, and finds a convenient escape in the form of rough-hewn hunter Ulfhejm, played by Irish actor James Browne, whose scenes are spoken in English.
It’s a mesmerising hour or so. As the director says in a programme note, it plays like a musical quartet in which “four instruments play different songs in a complicated melody” (there are actually five characters, though the Nun who shadows Irene is largely silent). Although undoubtedly at the more oblique end of the Ibsen canon – as more a fragmented series of philosophical musings than a linear drama – it has profound things to say about the pursuit of an artistic life. “When we dead awaken, we find that we have never lived,” says Irene, encapsulating the play’s underpinning thesis that a life without creative freedom is meaningless.
The cast embodies the characters with great conviction – a sort of heightened naturalism – while Bang-Hansen’s sparse staging allows the text to sing. Designer Mayou Trikerioti’s set looks like an artwork in itself, and cleverly incorporates a running stream alongside the aforementioned rubble pile. Rarely seen on UK stages, the chance to see such an accomplished production of When We Dead Awaken is one that Ibsen completists won’t want to miss. But more than this, it’s a moving and poignant piece in its own right, an eloquent hymn to art itself.
“…the chance to see such an accomplished production of When We Dead Awaken is one that Ibsen completists won’t want to miss”
Henrik Ibsen’s chilly final drama comes to life
By Sam Marlowe, THE TIMES (2 March 2022)
Henrik Ibsen’s final play is a dreamlike, elusive work, yet in this production from the Norwegian Ibsen Company, its symbolism and otherworldly mysteries are tethered to the mundane: at its centre is a collapsing marriage and a male midlife crisis.
Adapted and directed by Kjetel Bang-Hansen, it’s performed mainly in Norwegian, with some rather ploddily translated surtitles. But there’s plenty of eloquence and wit in this spry, wry production, with its strongly defined performances and striking visuals.
Mayou Trikerioti conjures its cold, craggy mountain scenery, where an unhappy couple are holidaying, out of domestic detritus. There’s a giant heap of debris — furniture, broken floorboards, smashed brick, a candelabra, a twist of wire; tattered curtains frame a stage through which grass sprouts and a stream trickles.
Here, Oystein Roger as sculptor Arnold Rubek and Andrea Bræin Hovig as his discontented younger wife Maia confront their failing relationship. He, having laid aside his creative ideals in favour of a lucrative career carving portrait busts of wealthy patrons, is bored and dissatisfied both with Maia and with himself; she feels neglected, trapped and undermined.
Their listless bickering comes to crisis point with the arrival of two outsiders: Ulfhejm, a lusty, Pan-like hunter (Irish-accented, English-speaking James Browne); and Irene, a model and muse from Arnold’s glory days (Ragnhild Margrethe Gudbrandsen). Constantly at Irene’s heels is a black-clad nun (Luisa Guerreiro), a deathly harbinger who in Bang-Hansen’s staging is no flitting, ghostly shadow, but a bustling chaperone marching officiously after her charge, keys jangling.
That choice of earthiness over wafty poeticism is a keynote. Irene is preoccupied with the statue Arnold once made of her, which she refers to as their “child” and which she imagined would make her immortal; her disappointing existence since has been a living death.
Gudbrandsen, a vital and emphatic force firmly rooted in her wellington boots, is ferocious in her murderous frustration. Roger’s Arnold, meanwhile, is hilariously vain: not only does he tell Maia, with a dismissive sniff, that she’s too trivial for his company, but Irene discovers, to her devastated fury, that he reworked her statue into a group, placing an effigy of himself at the front — and her at the back.
There are echoes of Ibsen’s earlier, more satisfying work The Master Builder in the way in which a woman from the past impels a compromised man to once again scale catastrophic heights; the climax of snowstorm and oblivion, though, is somewhat underwhelming here. Still, this is an otherwise engaging take that infuses this chilly drama with the warm blood of humanity.
“… infuses this chilly drama with the warm blood of humanity”
Living death, dying life
By David Nice, THE ARTS DESK (2 March 2022)
Ibsen anticipates Beckett in his strange final play, austerely staged with dashes of wit.
In Ibsen’s last and shortest play, further cut here, four people nominally climb a mountain, but actually seem to be crossing waste land towards the land of Samuel Beckett. It’s an amazing play in which reality is symbolic and symbols are real, where not one character is likeable and all speak with hallucinatory directness. The Norwegian Ibsen Company, very much welcome back to the Coronet Theatre, do much of its strangeness justice.
Everyone who’s seen either the play or the film of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita will remember the protagonist’s response to the essay title “Suggest how you might resolve the staging difficulties inherent in a production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt” – “Do it on the radio”. When We Dead Awaken is really a play for radio or film. Avoiding the kind of gimmicky attempt at an al fresco landscape which overwhelmed the Donmar drama of Swedes in the Alps Force Majeure, director Kjetil Bang Hansen and designer Mayou Trikerioti have jettisoned the settings of the three acts – outside a Norwegian spa hotel, a mountain health resort and the top of the mountain. They give us instead a house that looks as if it’s been bombed or long deserted, detritus piled up in a hill of sorts at the centre, a runnel heading downstage, vegetation growing in the cracks: the flotsam and jetsam of wasted lives. It’s a good use of the crumbling Coronet auditorium.
The four main characters adapt to the wildness, sitting on the broken planks and rarely on chairs, unwinding their bitterness, hatred and dim hope. Ibsen wastes no time in telling us who they are: egotistical sculptor Arnold Rubek (Oystein Roger), unfulfilled ever since he created what he seems to accept as a masterpiece; the artist’s model for that masterpiece Irene (Ragnhild Margrethe Gudbrandsen), jettisoned after what’s described by both, she bitterly, as an “episode” and since confined to a lunatic asylum, now followed about by a mostly silent carer; Rubek’s younger wife Maia (Andrea Bræin Hovig), longing for freedom; and the wild, satyr-like hunter Ulfhejm (Irish actor James Browne), who can partly satisfy that yearning.
Ibsen translator and biographer Michael Meyer has written about “a certain kind of abstract high-flown writing which in any prose sounds grandiose, even windy”, adding that Ibsen intended to write his last play in verse – though of course he didn’t want to admit this would be the endgame. The actors’ triumph is to make it seem inevitable, however strange, and while Ibsen pricks the artistic grandiosity of his alter ego with the reactions of the women he’s used, this production goes still further in making it actually funny at times.
That, at least, is the case when Irene asks about the fate of her “child”, Rubek’s marble masterpiece “The Day of Resurrection”. It’s been buried alive in the tomb of a distant museum, he tells her, and is forced to confess that her sculptured figure has been moved back on a bigger plinth to accommodate all sorts of humans with bestial essence beneath their human masks swarming out of a curved and fissured earth, putting himself at the front as a figure tormented by guilt.
There’s a weirder kind of playfulness between Maia and her hunter – edgy, dangerous, ultimately resolving to “stitch our tattered lives together”. They descend to the existence that the older couple sees as death, while Rubek and Irene ascend to the new life. It’s unstageable, and some of Ibsen’s directions are read out by the actors. Is that it, we ask? But the playwright himself left us with a sketch of a final act: the brevity of old age, like a Shakespeare late romance.
As with everything else in the play this denouement aspires to music, with its haunting refrains, its central quartet; someone should write an opera on it, but one that would have to be as lean, hungry and, fitfully, lyrical as the original drama. All credit to Bang-Hansen for keeping the peripheral sounds to a minimum, Meanwhile, there’s music in the actors’ delivery, switching from Norwegian to English for the scenes with the stranger-hunter, though the most striking sing-songiness comes in the original language from Gudbrandsen’s Irene.
“See it: I guarantee you won’t find the play better, or even as well, done by a British company”
“The Norwegians show us how Ibsen ought to be done with this powerful bilingual revival”
By Tom Wicker, TIME OUT (14 February 2019)
The Norwegians have come to Notting Hill to show us how their most famous writer, Henrik Ibsen, should be done, in this bilingual staging of ‘The Lady from the Sea’. A co-production between the Norwegian Ibsen Company and The Print Room, it strips away the sort of starchy period hand-wringing that can plague second-rate Ibsen revivals.
Loosely inspired by folktale, the play finds the sea-loving Ellida washed up in a town in the mountains of west Norway, unhappily married to Wangel, a doctor, and resented by her two stepdaughters, Bolette and Hilde. The arrival of Arnholm, Bolette’s ex-teacher, stirs things up, while sickly, wannabe artist Lyngstrand nervously hangs around, as beige as his corduroys.
Director Marit Moum Aune’s staging is strikingly light on its feet: funny, human and sad. For the most part, she successfully dislodges the characters from the pedestal of heavy symbolism. She prods the sinews of their conversations to make them living people, underplaying high drama in favour of an awkward social dance that’s full of deflected glances and trailing sentences. This is a group of people trapped by their choices and by each other.
The script’s fluid flip between surtitled Norwegian and Mari Vatne Kjeldstadli’s English translation brings its own dramatic voice. Depending on who’s speaking, the switch between the two captures both distance and intimacy as characters pace around the bleak sweep of designer Erlend Birkeland’s stark, sand-covered set, parched and featureless apart from a pointedly placed fish tank.
If the sea represents liberation, its depths are murky here. As Ellida, Pia Tjelta returns to Ibsen at the Print Room after last year’s ‘Little Eyolf’. She’s a tremendous stage presence as a woman still reeling from the death of her baby son three years earlier. Her obsession with a man from her past, and with the ocean, only takes full flight after she’s been medicated to the eyeballs by her controlling, fearful, cognac-swigging husband (Adrian Rawlins).
This isn’t mythologised tragedy. Metaphor plays second fiddle to a nuanced portrait of just how family members can hurt each other. Molly Windsor gives us enough of a glimpse of the aching vulnerability beneath Hilde’s spiteful bravado to make it sting. As Bolette, desperate for education and travel, Marina Bye feels closest to us on stage, registering the double standards of Edward Ashley’s haplessly stupid Lyngstrand or Kåre Conradi’s lovelorn Arnholm.
It’s all rooted in such an effective, pained sense of reality, it’s actually pretty jarring when Ellida’s former lover plods down the steps of the auditorium with almost parodic ominousness. Everyone else is so well fleshed out, he feels out of place. But this ultimately doesn’t derail a powerfully complex production that scrapes away many of the barnacles of cliché and lets us see Ibsen properly.
“a mesmeric performance”
By Dave Hollander, THE STAGE (14 February 2019)
No detail in the Norwegian Ibsen Company’s staging of The Lady from the Sea is left to chance. In this bilingual version, Adrian Rawlins’ widower Dr Wangel is an English émigré living by a fjord in remote western Norway with his teenage daughters. But he’s not the only fish out of water: his younger second wife Ellida (captivatingly played by Pia Tjelta) is the sea-loving daughter of a lighthouse keeper.
Cleverly, Marit Moum Aune’s production re-imagines the original with 21-century sensibilities: younger daughter Hilde (Molly Windsor) is openly hostile to her the woman occupying her mother’s place in her father’s affections. And rather than exhibiting ‘hysteria’, Tjelta’s Ellida is traumatised by ghosts from the past: her dead child, her lost lover and her husband’s ex-wife. Her erratic behaviour is caused by the medication she takes to numb the pain.
Though 19th-century audiences might have bridled at idea of women’s self-determination, here outdated patriarchal attitudes are mercilessly mocked by the female characters.
Defying dour Nordic stereotype, the show twinkles with awkward humour. With his corduroy jacket and jelly shoes, Edward Ashley’s sickly sculptor Lyngstrand is never short of the wrong word to say. Likewise, a misguided proposal by Arnholm (Kare Conradi) to his former student Bolette (Marina Bye) is a wince-inducing comic episode.
Cut into a fjord backdrop, Erlend Birkeland’s set takes the form of a wood-lined room in front of which stretches an expanse of sand and grit. Nils Petter Molvaer’s evocative soundscapes underpin rather than steer the emotional currents, intensifying the sense of brooding menace as the dangerously alluring figure of Oystein Roger’s Stranger approaches.
Ultimately, the symbolism of Ibsen’s play looms large in this production’s skilful portrayals of dashed ambitions and pragmatic compromise: Ellida, who came from the the sea but is now accustomed to life on land, can never go back.
“Beautifully conceived bilingual update of Ibsen’s drama about loss and longing, with a mesmeric central performance.”
I should say before I start, that I don’t really like Ibsen. Despite being the second most performed writer after Shakespeare, I find his proto-feminist scripts dated, and his high-realism to be at odds with his heavily idea-oriented scripts. Though Ibsen ranks among Euripides, Bernard Shaw and Strindberg as writers apt for reinterpretation and adaptation, I find his ‘strong female characters’ are often quite archaic and simplistic representations. That all said, and perhaps because of it, the Norwegian Ibsen Company’s production of The Lady From The Sea is really very good.
The narrative focusses on the unhappiness of a disjointed family living in West Norway. As in all Ibsen plays, the arrival and leavings of various characters manage to unhitch the uneasy stability of family life, revealing underlying tensions and frustrations. The central relationship is that of Wangel (Adrian Rawlins) and his new wife, Ellida (Pia Tjelta), who are struggling to find the balance of give and take that marriage and family requires. As suggested in the title, there is some suggestion that Ellida is ‘from the sea’, as she swims every morning, and talks endlessly about the beauty and fascination of the waves. Their relationship is put to the test when Ellida begins to drift and dream of her long lost lover, who she feels will return imminently. This unhappy love triangle is Ibsen’s inroad to examining female agency, male entitlement, freedom and longing.
Erlend Birkeland’s set is relatively plain, with the entire stage being covered with sand and stones, in front of what appears to be a house, but is perhaps also a sauna. Aside from a couple of chairs and steps, the eye is drawn to a neon-lit fish tank in the upstage corner, perhaps an allusion to Ellida’s feeling of being trapped on land. Nils Petter Molvær’s sound design is relatively unobtrusive, and perhaps a little overmodest, adding very little to the play.
Marit Moum Aune’s decision to script parts of the dialogue in Norwegian (though the original text is in Danish) is a clever one, suggesting a separation between Wangel and Ellida and also alluding to the huge geographical separation between northern Norway and the South (Norway is 2500 kilometers North to South, with the northern parts largely unpopulated). There was perhaps a suggestion that Ellida was related to the Sami people, as she is distinctly ‘other’ to the rest of the family, an avenue not normally pursued by singularly English adaptations.
Ellida is torn between returning to the sea routes and leaving Wangel for ‘The Stranger’, a sailor travelling north. The central crux is her apparent choice between her two lovers, though both feel that she belongs to them, neither recognising her agency in her life. This male entitlement is echoed across each of the male characters, as Arnholm (Kåre Conradi) more or less forces Bolette (Marina Bye) to marry him in order to get monetary support for her studies. Bye finds a powerful balance between determined and desperate in the face of patriarchal power.
Though each of the female characters are the decision makers, Ibsen frames their choices strictly within a male framework. Under Marit Moum Aune’s direction, the men are equal parts pathetic and powerful; one can’t help but note contemporary parallels with the gatekeepers of success in the arts industry. The play concludes with female solidarity and the men pushed behind. Not exactly triumphant, but maybe determined.
Whilst he never won a Nobel Prize [despite four separate nominations] the 19th century playwright Henrik Ibsen carries an even more prestigious appellation: ‘the father of realism’. For someone who hasn’t seen his work performed that title can give an image of the Norwegian’s oeuvre that’s subtly out of skew with reality. Rather than proto-Kitchen Sink drama many of Ibsen’s plays seethe with symbolism and heavily expressionistic elements. The Lady from the Sea, initially performed in 1888, is on one hand a bitingly relevant drama about communication and regret but under it’s dark and turbulent surface pulses something rather more Jungian.
The version that has washed up onto the Gothic shores of the Coronet’s sand-strewn stage is a rather modern beast. Many adaptations of Ibsen get hung up on period fittings and stilted attempts at providing authenticity, from costume to dialogue and only succeed in making the second most performed playwright in the world [no prizes for guessing whose number 1] feel like an austere period piece. However this joint production between Print Room and the Norwegian Ibsen Company manages the tricky feat of modernising the action in a way that exposes rather than distracts from the bruised heart at the centre of the drama. Far from being stilted, the dialogue crackles with ironic misunderstandings and misspeaking that put you as much in mind of Peep Show as Twelfth Night. Ibsen has admittedly never been held up as particularly side-splitting but the, often mean-spirited, humour helps to ground some of the darker moments in the kind of mundanity that we can only alleviate with bright cold stabs of comedy.
The Lady from the Sea is both equally inspired by Scandanavian folklore and a rather sordid incident from the great playwright’s own life. The titular lady is Ellida, a free-spirit in love with the sea, who has found herself the second wife of a seemingly good-natured if ineffectual doctor named Wangel. From the beginning it’s clear that this is a marriage with serious systemic issues, not exactly aided by Wangel’s two daughters from his previous marriage who secretly venerate their deceased mother with silent complicity from their cognac sodden father. Ellida is an outsider in her own life, traumatised by the death of her child three years prior. Kept queasily medicated by Wangel she finds herself obsessing over the distant sea and a previous, quasi-mythical lover who seems to be its emissary. He unexpectedly returns with a force of a storm and threatens to crush the quiet bourgeois desperation of the family’s shared life together.
This version has stripped out a lot of the symbolism of the original text, but by trimming it down to the bare minimum it builds a dreamlike feeling of the supernatural bubbling under the harsh presentation of a world which chews women up with bored relish. The play is in a combination of English and the occasional bout of surtitled Norwegian. The predominance of the English serves a dramatic purpose by further underlining Ellida’s isolation from herself. All of the actors who occupy the stark set, which recreates a dismal beach outside of the wooden decking of the hotel, give fantastic and sensitive performances but particular credit has to be given to Kåre Conradi who plays Arnholm. An avuncular teacher going to seed in his middle age, he is frequently hilarious, but a devastating scene late in the play shows that Conradi can turn his character on a dime with unsavoury gusto. The only lesser note in the play is Øystein Røger’s ominous Stranger, but considering that his character’s brief appearances serve as more of a plot device than a character, this is to be expected.
Expressionistic whilst totally grounded in reality, funny yet tragic, current and timeless both, this is a serious adaptation of Ibsen that should be respected as Exhibit A of why the playwright still matters.
“Engrossing Anglo-Norwegian production has some strong performances”
by Katherine Waters, THE ARTS DESK (18 February 2019)
Ellida (Pia Tjelta) has a choice to make, the outcome of which will bind her future to her past or her present, each represented by a man. On the one hand, there is the tempestuous sea-faring Stranger (Øystein Røger) to whom, long ago and in a fit of delirium, she pledged herself; on the other, there is her devoted and rational doctor husband Wangel (Adrian Rawlins). The consequences of neither option are clear, for while Ellida has lived through both periods, she has hardly been alive in either. Instead, the heroine of Ibsen’s 1888 drama is numbed, adrift, and it is only now – under turbulent threat – that she can begin to navigate the choppy consequences of her actions and begin to plumb her own psyche.
Ibsen’s psychologically dense drama unfolds in a remote fjord town through which tourists pass in pursuit of white nights. The two daughters of Wangel’s first marriage have grown up in this backwater; both yearn for more. The world visits and retreats seasonally, ebbing and flowing like the tide, but the sense is of fishbowl claustrophobia. Bolette (Marina Bye) dreams of university but is compassionately yoked to her alcohol-dependent father; the prescience of her younger sister, Hilde (Molly Windsor), senses the friable edges of everyone around her and threatens to tip herself into an angsty madness precipitated through boredom. Compared to the wild refreshing ocean, the waters here are stagnant, “sick”.
In the director Marit Moum Aune’s Anglo-Norwegian production, designed by Erlend Birkeland, a tongue of sand stretches into the auditorium and a rectangular veranda at the back of the stage gives onto a glassed-in room which serves as hallway, living room and sauna. Much of the action takes place outside, but this indoor perspective allows groups and individuals to catch sight of each other at inopportune moments. It’s not just Ellida who has to form her future through a choice between men: Bolette is being pursued by her older teacher, Arnholm (Kåre Conradi), whom, in a fit of misapprehension, Wangel has invited to visit; morbid Hilde and the dying Lyngstrand (Edward Ashley) have a compact that is half sibling rivalry, half amorous, though he is clearly besotted by Bolette. A lilac-lit fish tank stands nearby, the comparison is clear; surveillance and speculation are natural in such confines.
The difficulty of throwing Ibsen’s acutely observed psychological states onto the open stage is partly solved by dramatic, filmic lighting changes and intermittent soundtrack, composed by Nils Petter Molvær. Bolette pushes a knitting needle into her hand in the dark to a tense thrum until Lyngstrand arrives on the strand and fails to notice her bleeding palm; Hilda piles sand over her face in a frantic depiction of – and reaction against – her suffocating circumstance. These intricate exchanges push the action forward, but the lighting and sound occasionally intrude rather than complement. Nevertheless, as the second half warms to the urgency of Ellida’s decision, they carry the melodrama with pace.
Another mixed blessing is the use of Norwegian for certain interchanges. This is principally used to emphasise the various gulfs – cultural, linguistic, emotional – that exist between Wangel and Ellida, but it also serves to show the family’s general sense of not fitting in, or having to be permanently bridging divides. Unlike a film where subtitles overlay picture, in this show they are projected onto the wall, tearing the audience’s eyes away from the scene taking place just below. Distraction aside, it remains a sheer delight to hear the loops and planes of Norwegian consonants and vowels fill the stage like gulls and waves.
There are some wonderful performances. Rawlins‘s Wangel pinches and sniffs, a flinching, bearded mouse of a man, who, despite his inability to cope evenly with uncertain circumstances, has a steely core. Conradi as Arnholm bounces and performs as a charismatic but buffoonish batchelor whose inappropriateness stems from desperation and loss. Tjelta as Ellida treads the thin line between mental illness and semi-spiritual prescience. Windsor’s strops, tantrums and snarky asides as Hilde reeks of hormones and impatient adolescence.
Ellida’s choice is not a clean one. Both options compromise parts of her life that nourish her being – but it’s a necessary choice. Bolette and Hilde have yet to make decisions of a momentousness that they will either inhabit or disavow later in their lives. The perennial question is, what degree of entrapment are you willing to bear for a certain kind of freedom?
“The cast are superb and work as a finely tuned machine”
By Cindy Marcolina, BROADWAY WORLD (19 February 2019)
The Print Room at The Coronet is hosting a slick and melancholic bilingual revival of Henrik Ibsen‘s The Lady From The Sea produced by the venue in their first collaboration with The Norwegian Ibsen Company.
The playwright shocked his audiences when he premiered it in 1889 with his representation of family and defiance of societal norms. Now director Marit Moum Aune opens up the narrative and puts the three women centre-stage in an in-depth analysis of independence and internal conflict.
Ellida (Pia Tjelta) is haunted by her past and struggling with being Doctor Wangel’s (Adrian Rawlins) second wife. His daughters Bolette (Marina Bye) and Hilde (Molly Windsor) grapple with accepting her into their nucleus and she feels like an outsider in her own home. When Arnholm (Kåre Conradi), Bolette’s former teacher, arrives on the doctor’s invitation, there’s a shift in their precarious harmony and a profound reflection on emotional ties is triggered.
Moum Aune freezes time and presents the play as enclosed in a metaphorical fishbowl. By mixing naturalism and symbolism in her craft, she highlights the writer’s modern thinking and focuses on the relationships (both romantic and familial) between the characters. She layers the direction, sprinkling metaphors in the actor’s physicality and putting on cold but delicate visuals.
Difficult and very personal conversations are carried out in Ibsen’s native Norwegian, with surtitles projected onto the scenery. This directorial choice comes off as smooth and sensible, as Moum Aune drags out the characters’ most intimate strife and appeals to their origins. The decision also adds authenticity to the production, at the same time managing to leave it accessible and relatable to a broad public.
Set designer Erlend Birkeland gives the stage a rather bucolic aura with unwavering cold lighting curated by Simon Bennison. He covers it with sand and pebbles while a painted backdrop depicting a Norwegian landscape looms over the scene, reminding the audience of the influence of the setting in Moum Aune‘s production. A fish tank with live goldfish on the far right corner works as a direct link to the director’s (and Ibsen’s own) analogy, cutting to the chase and serving as a perhaps too-easy reference.
The cast are superb and work as a finely tuned machine. Tjelta tactfully brings out the inner turmoil and discord of the titular character while Rawlins‘ rational approach acts as balance to her emotions. Bye and Windsor become two faces of the same medal as the daughters, they yearn emancipation and yet strive to be accepted by others, while Conradi‘s teacher alternates moments of confidence with slight hesitance.
As the sickly (and sometimes creepy) Lyngstrand, Edward Ashley is lanky and justly awkward with jelly sandals at his feet and inelegant attitude. Lastly, Øystein Røger takes over the stage with his two interventions as The Stranger who stirs Ellida.
The Norwegian Ibsen Company‘s first co-production with The Print Room is an exquisite gift to London’s multiculturalism as is the choice to offer this version of Ibsen’s The Lady From The Sea to its theatrical panorama.
“Exhilarating Ibsen from Norway’s National Theatre”
“It is the fashion these days to strip Ibsen to the bone. This exhilarating production from Norway’s National Theatre – played in Norwegian with surtitles – is very much in the modern mode. It runs, like Richard Eyre’s 2015 Almeida version, for a brisk 85 minutes, and is played in modern dress with mostly bare feet and minimal furniture. It leaves you, as all good Ibsen should, quietly shattered.
Guilt is the prevailing theme as Rita and Alfred Allmers try to repair a marriage already haunted by the accident that happened to their boy, Eyolf, when they were preoccupied in making love. What is especially striking about Sofia Jupither’s production is its realisation of Ibsen’s sexual candour. Pia Tjelta’s Rita can hardly keep her hands off Kåre Conradi’s withdrawn Alfred as he returns from a six-week walking tour in the mountains and unbuttons his shirt with frenzy. Alfred’s passion for his half-sister, Asta, is more decorously expressed but no less intense. The most shocking revelation comes when we learn that Alfred, who used to call Asta “Little Eyolf”, cried out that name at a moment of orgasm with his wife. Written in 1894, the play emerges as both breathtakingly honest and the ancestor of soul-baring modern dramas by Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee.
Jupither’s production also brings out Ibsen’s grim humour. When Tjelta’s superb Rita, a Lady Macbeth of the fjords, announces that she intends to devote herself to looking after neglected children, one’s initial response is that the police should be alerted. Conradi captures perfectly Alfred’s self-regarding intellectualism, and there is fine support from Ine Jansen as an anguished Asta and from Andrine Sæther, who turns the symbolic figure of the Rat-Wife, sensing something troublesome gnawing away in the house, into a hippy Pied Piper. This is Ibsen with the gloves off, and the only sadness is that the production was given a bare three-night run. Someone should invite this company back to give us an extended Ibsen season.”
Michael Billington, The Guardian (20 April 2018)
“Pia Tjelta and Kåre Conradi succeed in an unusually clear Little Eyolf.” Dagbladet
“Merciless on complacency” ***** VG
“When Little Eyolf ends in a black with a glimmer of hope that both shakes and pains, it is an Ibsen-triumph of which Jupither from all of her heart can thank Tjelta and Conradi.”
“An extraordinarily well played and musical production of Little Eyolf.” Aftenposten
Tønsberg Blad writes:
“Grounded Peer Gynt”
“Kåre Conradi has been assigned the role of Peer, who is self-sufficient through thick and thin, in everything. He carries the role effortlessly all the way through to the last sentence. Peer is on stage almost constantly, and it’s a real tour de force. Conradi with Sylvia Salvesen (mother Aase) makes her moment of death one of the many emotional moments in the show. It is beautifully done through a little dance, and thankfully not in the sled as we’ve seen so many times before. Conradi acts so that we are spellbound by his storytelling, he lies so well that we believe in him. He is an amazing actor, musical to his fingertips.”
“Humor, insanity and slightly vulgar”
“Kåre Conradi drives game forward with great energy and unmatched enthusiasm, he engages and moves and makes us forget that we are slightly cramped, that Ibsen uses a long time getting his message across and that the summer is undeniably about to turn into fall.”
Telemark Arbeiderblad writes:
“Moving and lush Peer Gynt”
“Before the nearly three-hour performance is finished, it is clear that Peer in Kåre Conradi’s hardworking character has the ability to engage us once again.”
Vestfold Blad writes:
“Magnificent premiere of Peer Gynt”
“Kåre Conradi starred as Peer when Peer Gynt premiered on Wednesday night in front of a packed grandstand at Karljohansvern in Horten.”
“Kåre Conradi is an excellent actor and story teller. In English as well. (…) The show demonstrates that Conradi is an outstanding actor – there are abrupt turns in a wide field of expression, narrative theatre without being hollow or inflated theatrical. This is a showcase where Conradi gets to show his versatility, while we get served the story of Peer Gynt. Everything within an unpretentious hour, executed in very high quality.”
Jan E. Hansen, Aftenposten, on Kåre Conradi’s one-man-show Peer Gynt:
“He makes the words his own, not by applying his own signature and outstaging Ibsen’s, but by letting them live through an actor’s body and mind. He engages in the text both naturally and lyrically with a sensitive understanding for Peer and his fate; he identifies with the life-struggle and the characters, and doesn’t use his own humour and irony other than to spice up the short summaries when connecting directly with the audience. In other words, he doesn’t use Ibsen to expose his talent, but his talent to expose Ibsen.
Nancy Napper-Canter, writer for Broadway Baby:
“His obvious enthusiasm for this Norwegian classic makes him the perfect person to relay it; he’s a story-mediator as well as teller. (…) He reminded me of a lecturer – a talented, devoted lecturer, whose passion for his subject is palpable. Conradi’s research is obvious; he’s even been to several of the places where the play is set. It’s not difficult for Conradi to bring this material to life. Much of it, it seems, is his life.
With his warm voice and friendly demeanour, Conradi creates a nicely intimate atmosphere. (…) Despite his manifest expertise, Conradi’s not pompous with his interpretations. What’s more, Conradi doesn’t claim to have all the answers. It’s endearingly low-key, but there are also moments of drama. Frequently running around the stage, Conradi even climbs the lighting rig to emphasize Peer’s heightened emotion as he falls in lust. Energetic and compelling, Conradi’s a natural storyteller.”
Lesley Riddoch award winning journalist (Scotsman and Guardian), commentator and broadcaster writes:
“Kåre stars in a one man exploration of ‘Peer Gynt’, as you have never seen it before. This is the first production from the newly founded Norwegian Ibsen Company. Using just one prop and a mixture of monologue and soliloquy Kåre opens up Henrik Ibsen’s classic Norwegian tale in English to a whole new audience. I’ve seen this – a brilliant performance and perhaps the first time I both understood the Ibsen play AND the way it reflects Norwegian thinking.”