The Theatreguide.London Review
Duke Of York's Theatre Spring-Summer 2019
A rarely performed
Ibsen play proves to be a vital, engrossing drama in a dream
combination of adaptation, direction and performances.
inheritor of the titular estate, is a pastor who has lost his faith
and a member of the establishment who is beginning to question the
social status quo.
With an election
approaching, conservatives and
radicals alike vie for his approval, to borrow the moral power of his
name, and both sides threaten to destroy his reputation if need be,
to keep the others from benefiting from it.
Meanwhile Rebecca West,
the modern free-thinking young woman with whom he doesn't quite
realise he is in love, may be manipulating him for her own purposes.
In the course of the
play both John and Rebecca admit or discover
things about themselves that seem to push them toward hopelessness.
play that constantly talks about honour, family, tradition and the
virtues and responsibilities of the privileged class, with many of
its assumptions potentially distasteful to modern sensibilities,
could easily sound horribly dated.
But Duncan Macmillan's
adaptation gives everything a contemporary and realistic flavour
without lapsing into the anachronisms of tone or language that plague
so many 'modern' translations.
Indeed, so confident is
adaptation that he even allows himself the occasional line that
amuses the audience by sounding like currently topical jokes, without
breaking the reality.
And Ian Rickson's
direction underlines the real
passions of the characters, convincing us that the play's moral and
political issues really matter to them and thus making them matter to
As Rosmer, Tom Burke has
the extraordinary task of playing a
character who is, let's admit it, a bit of a wimp. Rosmer is at best
a small-L liberal, eager to trust everyone's good intentions and to
find things to respect in everyone's positions; at worst a
ventriloquist's dummy shaped by whoever has most recently spoken to
Yet Burke keeps him
interesting and worthy of our attention
and respect by quietly underplaying a core of gravity and sincerity,
in effect showing us the man Rosmer could be if he ever developed a
Hayley Atwell's journey
as Rebecca West is in some ways the
counterpart, beginning as a confident New Woman and only gradually
revealing – or discovering – what, after futile search for a
better adjective, we might call her feminine side.
But for me the
real acting honours go to Giles Terera as the representative of the
old-money moral-high-ground establishment. His character is an Ibsen
staple – think of Parson Manners in Ghosts – and could so easily
have been either wooden or ridiculous.
But Terera invests him
total commitment to his values and more passion in expressing and
defending them than any other character.
Skew the play in a
different direction and he could be the hero, and it is very much to
the credit of actor Terera and director Rickson that all the
character's power comes out without distorting the play.
You may not think that the issues of small town politics more than a century ago, or the fates of these provincial characters, matter to you. But for two and a half hours they will, making this production of Rosmersholm the strongest drama of the year so far.
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