The Theatreguide.London Review
Not as well known or as often revived as Ghosts or A Doll's House, Rosmersholm is an intellectually stimulating and emotionally involving drama about politics, sex, guilt and, like all Ibsen plays, about how the past shapes and limits the present.
In a small town bitterly divided between old-line reactionaries and socialist radicals, a member of one of the oldest families hopes that his patrician credentials and leftist sympathies will enable him to bring the two sides together.
He's naive, of course - while either side would be happy to use his name as an ally, the last thing anyone wants is reconciliation, and by not committing to either side, he becomes an enemy of both.
Compounding matters are the fact that he is a former pastor who lost his faith and left the church, that his wife killed herself after a lingering illness, and that the young woman who cared for her became his political inspiration and muse.
His new political foes lose no time in blackening his name through innuendoes in all those areas - and, even worse, some of those charges turn out to have a grain or more of truth to them.
So Rosmersholm is about politics, about the ways any relationships between men and women are coloured by sex, about the lengths zealots will go to fight for what they want to take or keep from others, and about the plight of a man who is out of his depth in all this.
In true Ibsen fashion each step forward is achieved only by bringing up the past, re-examining it and understanding it a little bit better, not always happily.
And all of this matters. One of the major strengths of Anthony Page's production is that the characters are real, and what they fight over, discover or resist discovering is all palpably real and important to them.
Page and his admirable cast have achieved the difficult dramatic accomplishment of bridging a century and a culture gap - that the woman may have set out to catch the pastor, for example, may not particularly shock us in modern terms, but we are drawn into the framework in which it is a shattering revelation (and only one of several).
Paul Hilton plays the hero as a naïf, so absorbed in his enthusiasm that he's astonished others don't share it, just waiting to be shocked and disillusioned again and again and again. He also lets us see and feel that when such a man loses faith but not the morality that went with it, what he's left with is the ability to feel - or be made to feel - unbearable guilt.
Helen McCrory plays the woman in a metaphoric mask, letting us sense from the start that there is something behind the sweetness and light but not what it is, so that the play's revelations about her feel both surprising and inevitable.
Malcolm Sinclair steals all his scenes as the representative of the old guard, charming and amiable until he decides to be someone's enemy, when he becomes all fangs and claws.
A new translation by Mike Poulton has a natural, unstagy feel without anachronistic slips, and contributes to the play's reality and immediacy
Return to Theatreguide.London home page.
Review - Rosmersholm - Almeida 2008