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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

The Daughter
Schaubuhne.de  February 2021

Berlin's Schaubuhne offers online Simon Stone's 2015 film 'inspired by' Ibsen's 1884 play The Wild Duck, an adaptation that turns the play on its head and may well be a test case for how far one can stray from an original.

A reminder: in Ibsen's play Gregors returns to his home town after a long absence and is reunited with old friend Hjalmar, who is now in business and married with a teenage daughter.

Some snooping leads Gregors to the discovery that the girl is not Hjalmar's and that her real father (who is in fact Gregors' own father) has been secretly subsidising Hjalmar's business, further emasculating him.

Committed to the belief that truth is always better than a lie, Gregors tells Hjalmar what he has learned, destroying the happy family and leading to a pointless suicide.

Ibsen's play thus has two morals: sometimes a fantasy can be better than raw truth, and mind your own business.

Screenwriter-director Simon Stone sets the play in the present and changes some of the names (Christian for Gregors, Oliver for Hjalmar), while keeping the basic plot outline. But his film is all about, and wholly sympathetic with Christian.

As played by Paul Schneider, Christian is a deeply unhappy man. He misses his dead mother, hates his father, and resents his father's marrying a beautiful young woman. In the course of the film his own girlfriend dumps him and, in a particularly clumsy interpolated sequence, he discovers he can't drink and flirt with college girls the way he did in his student days.

Christian is miserable, and it is out of his misery, and not some abstract commitment to truth, that he destroys Oliver's family. And the film is sympathetic to him throughout.

It is not until very late that we are allowed to feel the damage he causes, in a strong scene of the child's (Odessa Young) pain, and until literally the last three or four minutes that we are invited into Oliver's (Ewen Leslie) grief. And even then it is presented as Oliver's own fault, Christian having dropped out of the film to go his own miserable way.

I prefer Ibsen's version, not just because I am more comfortable with his moral vision but because he presents it more clearly and consistently. The film's unwavering approval of Christian even as it repeatedly undercuts his psychological and moral position suggests that Stone himself is not sure how he feels about the character and the story.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Daughter 2021