The Theatreguide.London Review
Almeida Theatre Winter 2015-2016
We are all filled with intense passions that would shock others and even surprise ourselves, and a crisis can break down our protective inhibitions so that the jumble of emotions set loose can be as difficult to deal with as the event that triggered them.
This is the strongest impression produced by Ibsen's drama, here compressed from three acts into an unrelenting 90 minutes by adaptor-director Richard Eyre.
Supported by his rich wife Rita, philosopher Alfred has been free to retire to his study or wander in the mountains thinking deep thoughts.
But Rita's simmering resentment at the withering away of the passionate and sexual love of their early years together comes to a head when Alfred announces that he is giving up philosophy to dedicate himself completely to tending and educating their crippled son Eyolf.
Rita's shock and guilt at realizing that she is insanely jealous of her own son is complicated by her belief that it was the couple's sexual love that crippled the boy (who fell as a baby when they were off making love).
And then – small spoiler alert – the boy dies.
I won't attempt to list all the emotions the couple then go through, together and separately, because the jumble is part of the play's point. Suffice that they are all overpowering, they come upon each other in a dizzying rush, and they are all expressed with a passion that often scares even the speakers.
And herein lie both this production's brilliance and its challenge to an audience.
Despite director Eyre's remarkable accomplishment in guiding his actors to such intense emotional nakedness, he can't disguise the fact that the play is rather static and very, very talky, testing the audience's ability to sustain attention.
And that's a real danger, because the main body of the play is one intense confrontation after another. Lose focus or let your mind wander for seconds and you may well discover that those onstage are arguing with exactly the same intensity as a moment before but seem to have switched positions or have moved on to something else entirely.
There can be nothing but praise for Jolyon Coy and especially Lydia Leonard as the central couple, for taking the characters on emotional journeys that could have been sufficient to carry any three other plays if doled out more moderately, and always in control as performers even as their characters are blown about by their chaos inside.
There is solid if somewhat bland support from Eve Ponsonby, Sam Hazeldine and Eileen Walsh, while Tim Hatley's design, incorporating video projections by Jon Driscoll, is sometimes a little too proud of its own cleverness.
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