Rosmersholm at the Duke of York’s Theatre
One of the least performed of Ibsen’s works, Rosmersholm is a psychologically and thematically rich play reflecting some of the playwright’s own social concerns. Now readapted by Duncan MacMillan and directed by Ian Rickson, the work was originally inspired by the turbulent political climate of Ibsen’s time. The story encompasses many weighty topics, such as the divide between social classes, feminism, the malice of the media and waning religious faith. All of this is explored through the relationship between a former pastor, Rosmer (Tom Burke), and family friend Rebecca West (Hayley Atwell).
Rosmer is a highly respected man still coming to terms with his wife’s suicide a year earlier. He renounces his faith and isolates himself. Rebecca, his deceased wife’s companion who still lives in their mansion, attempts to shake him and encourage him to take an active role in the upcoming elections. While she wants Rosmer to adopt a progressive stance, his brother-in-law, Governor Kroll (Giles Terera), wants him to publicly support his conservative and bigoted ideals. Stuck between people fighting for liberalism and those defending traditions and the church, Rosmer is the neutral party everyone wants to coerce into conversion.
The protagonist, in a sense, represents the general public: lied to, manipulated and left in a state of confusion and frustration, unsure whether it’s best to act or remain on the sidelines. The risk of structuring the story in a way whereby each character has a specific viewpoint assigned to them, is that they can become mere mouthpieces for the ideals in question. Some dialogues, in fact, do seem on the verge of losing naturalness and flow, but overall the points made are strong enough to overcome this potential setback. Besides, the cast does full justice to the playwright’s masterly storytelling. Each has a defined set of aspirations, distinctive mannerisms and personal limitations that make them come alive.
Ibsen’s power, as always, is in drawing an audience right into the centre of the characters’ emotional worlds and in opening a window into their subconscious. The dialogues pull one in from the start and at no point does the rhythm slacken. The production is enriched by a beautifully haunting set and a highly atmospheric lighting that really conveys the sense of stillness and being stuck in the past.
While excellently performed, one would perhaps expect the melodrama and intensity of the events in the story to evoke strong emotions in the audience, a feat that the production comes close to at times but never quite attains. Still, this adaptation merits applause for its ability to narrate the story in an exceptionally engaging manner.
Photo: Johan Persson
Rosmersholm is at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 24th April until 20th July 2019. Book your tickets here.