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A CurtainUp London Review
The Lady from the Sea
Lia Williams plays Ellida , the eponymous lady from the sea and who is in thrall to the mysterious, dark power of a past lover who shares her kindred with the sea. With an otherworldly, elfin quality, she is like a mermaid from a folk tale trapped on dry land. Her practically transparent skin could almost be made of water, her eyes are preternaturally pale and she has a shock of short red hair. Combined with this unearthliness is her mental illness and Lia Williams' performance could be study in neurotic distraction. Her eyes wander from side to side, rarely fixing on a single object and she grows frantic at the tiniest provocation. Nevertheless, other characters seem a bit drab next to her illuminating if demented charisma.
The rest of the cast provide solid support. Jonathan Hackett is the kindly, true Dr Wangel who seeks to gain back his wife by releasing her. His two daughters are played by Fiona O'Shaughnessy as Hilde the engagingly blunt scamp and Alison McKenna as Bolette the eldest daughter trapped by domestic management. Chris Moran plays the ashen Lyngstrand, a dying, egoistical artist with Uriah Heap-style cringing which does not disguise his essential selfishness.
Jason Southgate's design is a starkly populated vacuum, with small islands of set separated and dotted around the auditorium. A veranda, an arbour and a rocky pool are scattered about with the black stage peeping through in between, just as the Wangels live their separate lives in an unconnected diaspora of a household. Long thing panels of sky are just visible on the sides of the set, so the audience also feel they are in the high-sided fjord which is suffocating Ellida.
Frank McGuinness' translation is exemplary, with all of Ibsen's poetry and imagery evoked without seeming high-flown or unnaturalistic. With a strongly conversational rhythm, the version feels more like an original play than a translation. Like the Arcola's Enemy of the People, this is a classic production of a classic play, with excellent writing and a strong cast.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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