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.
John Rosmer, 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.
A 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
muscular 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
Macmillan's 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 us.
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
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 spine.
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
But Terera invests him with
total commitment to his values and more passion in expressing and
defending them than any other character.
Skew the play in a slightly
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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