Posted on: 10 June 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Ibsen in Islington makes for gripping psychological drama.

Secrecy, sexual guilt and pent-up desire form the ingredients of Ibsen's psychological drama Rosmersholm, written in 1886 and now revived in a splendid new production directed by Anthony Page at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.

Johannes Rosmer has resigned as a parish priest following the suicide of his mentally disturbed wife. But his increasingly liberal ideas and loss of faith make him an object of suspicion to the local worthies who also disapprove of the presence in his house of a much younger woman, Rebecca West, formerly his wife's devoted companion and now providing him with respectable sex-free companionship. However, as their relationship deepens and their isolation builds, the increasing moral pressures they face force them inexorably towards their fate.

In this play, written four years before his great masterpiece Hedda Gabler, the ghosts of the past come back to haunt the present with tragic consequences. As well as providing two psychologically fascinating character studies, Ibsen paints a vivid portrait of idealism and democracy floundering in a society of journalistic spin and opportunism which gives the play a particularly contemporary feel. The play - in a version by Mike Poulton - about innocence and guilt, certainty and doubt, morality and conscience and politics and faith, offers a view of Norway on the verge of cultural, political and sexual revolution that Page's taut, involving production successfully conveys.

The atmospheric set, designed by Hildegard Bechtler, is strongly influenced by the evocative paintings of Danish artist Vilhelm Hammersi, a painter roughly contemporary with Ibsen.  Painted in muted greys with decisive geometric stringency, his sparsely-furnished rooms exude an almost hypnotic quietude and sense of melancholic introspection, conveying a sense of the emotional abyss behind the facade.

Page draws two mesmerising central performances from Helen McCrory as the passionate, inhibited Rebecca West, somewhat ruthless behind a refined exterior, whose emotional facade eventually cracks in a believable and moving way, and Paul Hilton as Johannes Rosmer, the unhappily married widower whose struggle with himself to bring his life in harmony with his convictions makes us fully empathise with his plight.  Providing strong support is Malcolm Sinclair as the ultra conservative Doctor Kroll, Rosmer's brother-in-law, and Peter Sullivan as the hypocritical Peder Mortensgaard, a political agitator and editor of the radical newspaper The Standard.

In all then an absorbing, thought-provoking drama that marks another triumph for this enterprising north London theatre and fully deserves a West End transfer.

Plays until 5th July 2008.

Laurence Green

Booking Information

Box office: 020 7359 4404 or:

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