Sonia Friedman Productions
By Henrik Ibsen
In a new adaptation by Duncan Macmillan
Directed by Ian Rickson
Duke of York’s Theatre
24 April – 20 July 2019
Reviewed by Clive Burton
Written in 1886, Ibsen’s Rosmersholm is an unsettlingly dark play that invites us to ponder the twin themes of upheaval and change in society as John Rosmer, current scion of the House of the Rosmer, decides to buck the trend of generations of ancestors by espousing a more liberal way of thinking on the eve of the imminent local elections - a parallel with today’s political situation that is both prescient and pertinent.
Encouraged by his late-wife’s former live-in companion, Rebecca West (who supported her charge until her a suicidal death-by-drowning a year ago), Rosmer is determined to pursue a new-found enlightened paternalism, giving away his patrimony in a series of extreme gestures designed to demonstrate his good faith to non-plussed staff.
The central couple believably create the understated torment at the heart of a relationship which must remain ostentatiously proper under the disapproving scrutiny of the wider world (whose scurrilous tittle tattle and surreptitious listening behind closed doors brings to mind Hamlet, another Nordic drama).
Rae Smith’s exquisite designs brilliantly place the action into context: the décor is grand in a faded ‘Miss Havisham’ sort of way, with an imposing salon emerging into unaccustomed light after having been shuttered for an obligatory mourning period of a year and day, its exclusively male portraits shrouded respectfully under dust sheets.
Often eerie, sometimes unsettling, and occasionally stunning - as when the whole stage becomes flooded with the piercing russets of a ravishing evening sunset - the startling aptness of Neil Austin’s breath-taking lighting adds immeasurably to Duncan Macmillan’s meticulous new adaptation, casting light into every corner.
To everyone’s surprise, it is a confident Ms West who insists on opening up the room for a lunch at which she joins the visiting Governor, the abstemious Andreas Kroll of Giles Terera and his brother-in-law, Rosmer, at table.
Ms West’s intense, yet chastely platonic, relationship with the master of the House is placed under considerable pressure by such an audacious move as, with Rosmer’s tacit approval, she assumes the de facto role of chatelaine.
Having renounced the Priesthood, Rosmer has reached a personal and political crossroads, questioning his traditional beliefs in light of remarks by Kroll that suggest “the luxuries we enjoy depend on the suffering of others”.
Recently seen as JK Rowling’s Cormoran Strike on the BBC, Tom Burke’s melancholic Rosmer is joined by Hayley Atwell (an internationally- recognised star through her role as Agent Carter in the unstoppably-sensational Marvel movie franchise) as his steadfast companion.
Giles Terera (Burr from the London production of Hamilton) makes an ebullient Kroll, whose façade as a caring liberal is at odds with his true beliefs as a self-seeking sustainer of the status quo who finds himself opposed to the united front presented by the revolutionary zeal of Rosmer and West.
Declining Kroll’s opportunistic invitation to act as a mouthpiece for his political party in the imminent election, he opts to support the populist viewpoint of a ‘people’s party’ espoused by Jake Fairbrother’s out-of-favour, Peter Mortensgaard.
The plot further thickens from there, with revelations exposing the real motives behind Rosmer’s volte face, and revealing Rebecca West’s part in the whole Rosmersholm situation that bring her bond with Rosmer into darker focus following the exposure of her unpredictably chequered past by the unscrupulous Kroll.
This Rosmersholm nails Ibsen’s attitudes towards religion, politics and sexual politics firmly to the masthead and proves itself an enduring masterwork in advance of its time, yet one which can still chime in with uncanny prescience with today’s dichotomy over contemporary Brexit issues and national identity.
The play’s rich vein of melancholy is leavened by Peter Wight’s bucolic childhood tutor, Ulrik Brendel, an evangelical John the Baptist figure of unreliable conviction who, no sooner having established himself, all-too-quickly disappears, making a late re-appearance towards the very end in a viscerally-dramatic bravura coup de theatre that spares nothing in its demands on actors and audience alike.
Ian Rickson’s direction reveals the complex weight and density of the serpentine storyline in this production of exemplary beauty and clarity.
by Henrik Ibsen
In a new adaption by Duncan Macmillan
Directed by Ian Rickson
Set & Costume Rae Smith
Lighting Neil Austin
Music Stephen Warbeck
Sound Gregory Clarke
Casting Amy Ball CDG
Duke of York’s Theatre
St Martin’s Lane,
London WC2N 4BG
First performance: April 24th
Final performance: July 20th
Opening Night: May 2nd at 7pm
Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm,
Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm
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Audio Described Performance 11th June 2019
Captioned Performance 18th June 2019