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The Theatreguide.London Review

Wife
Kiln Theatre   Summer 2019

Over an eighty year period several different people find productions of Ibsen's A Doll's House reflecting, illuminating or changing their lives.

But Samuel Adamson's new drama, and Indhu Rubasingham's production, operate on such an unrelentingly shrill and near-hysterical level that a battered audience has difficulty focusing on the play's ideas.

(A quick reminder: Ibsen's play tells of Nora, who realises how trapped she is by social conventions and leaves her husband and children to go off and find herself.)

In 1959 a married woman carrying on a passionate affair with an actress playing Nora allows herself to sink into dutiful (and alcoholic) wife- and motherhood. In 1982 her out-and-proud gay son, after seeing an experimental production in Norwegian, encourages his younger lover to come fully out of the closet, but the boy lacks the courage.

In 2019 the younger man's daughter forces the older to recognise that he has let himself slip into the role of supportive wife to a husband who is putting on a gender-bending production of Ibsen.

And in a utopian 2040, when all sexual problems and hang-ups have been removed, a fully emancipated young woman helps a jaded actress in a conventional staging of the Ibsen rediscover and celebrate Nora as patron saint of all who seek to liberate themselves.

(As you might sense, a minor running gag of Adamson's play is a satire of stage directors who are not content to present a play as written.)

Each scene of Wife involves both heated debates on the sorts of issues raised by Ibsen's play and painfully emotional self-explorations. But everything, outward- or inward-turning, is conducted with an operatic intensity and shrill yelling that is eventually counter-productive, threatening to reduce everything to the same level of contentless noise.

Everyone in the small cast, who double and redouble roles in a mix-and-match way, is limited by being directed on a one-note level that allows little opportunity for subtle or nuanced characterisations.

Karen Fishwick is able to convey some of the pain of the wife in the first scene and Richard Cant some of the compromises with reality the older gay man has made in the third.

Wife seems like a potentially interesting play, and perhaps someday a director who will allow it moments of less frantic quietness will bring out more of what it wants to say.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Wife - Kiln Theatre 2019