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A CurtainUp London Review

"The Rosmer children never cry and the grownups never laugh.
— Mrs Helseth
The Cast in Rosmersholm
(Photo: Johan Persson)
London Theatre is becoming a world of two halves. In the West End, venues are dominated by large theatres hosting large musical productions or the Harry Potter phenomenon with world wide audiences, mainly composed of visitors to London. Occasionally a good play gets into the West End but is mostly on transfer from smaller theatres like the Almeida, or the Royal Court, the larger National Theatre or the provinces like Bath and Chichester.

So it is remarkable that Sonia Friedman has put Ibsen's lesser known Rosmersholm on at the Duke of York's in St Martin's Lane without any prior run. It is the kind of play with a noted director and a cast of established theatre actors, which would have sold out to the subscribers of the National Theatre. Without the pre-run advance publicity, or being on an examination syllabus, Rosmersholm is struggling to fill its seats.

The other point of contention is the popularity with younger audiences of celebrated directors like Robert Icke, Ivo van Hove or Rebecca Frecknall who add their own interpretation to classical plays. Ian Rickson can do this too but is it always needed?

I remember Rickson's Hamlet at the Young Vic set in a psychiatric hospital where we had to walk through an installation before seeing the play here but what I most remember Rickson for, is his direction of Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem(review here). The popular production of Ibsen's The Wild Duck ( Review) by Robert Icke makes the connections for the audience with Ibsen's own life; but in this production of Rosmersholm we are allowed to reach our own conclusions.

Hayley Atwell's character, Rebecca West, is a remarkable woman by any standards. A woman who is brought down by ugly revelations about her own birth and past, she begins the play by opening up the room which has been dark since the drowning of Rosmer's wife, here called Beth. We see the furniture lose its hanging shrouds and the paintings unveiled of generations of the Rosmer family. West is the breath of fresh air the Rosmers and the larger society need.

There is so much that is futuristic in this play written in 1886. Rebecca West is a feminist, a wider involvement in politics is predicted beyond the landowning class; newspapers start to influence public opinion and are used by politicians, people start to question religion and faith; and Marxist ideas circulate. Giles Terera's Governor Kroll represents the old order of convention and conservatism, who judge others with pomposity. "Politics is no longer the pursuit of gentlemen," he says. It was his sister who has died who was married to Pastor John Rosmer (Tom Burke) who has lost his faith.

Rae Smith's beautiful set is panelled with oil portraits going back centuries. The Rosmers are described as having a vast moral debt to the people of the island as we look at generations of privilege.

Chickens come home to roost when an aggrieved teacher, Peter Mortensgaard (Jake Fairbrother), edits a new paper "The Lighthouse". Some time ago, Rosmer exposed Mortensgaard's private life which resulted in his being sacked as the schoolteacher.

The play isn't perfect with its grim resolution but the performances are as good as could be and the design coup at the end is unforgettable.

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Written by Henrik Ibsen
In a new Adaptation by Duncan Macmillan
Directed by Ian Rickson
Starring: Giles Terera, Tom Burke, Hayley Atwell, Peter Wight, Lucy Briers, Jake Fairbrother
With: Gavin Anthony, Ebony Buckle, Piers Hampton, Maureen Hibbert, Robyn Lovell, Alice Vilanculo.
Design: Rae Smith
Sound Designer: Gregory Clarke
Lighting Design: Neil Austin
Composer: Stephen Warbeck
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7615
Booking to 20th July 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 29th May 2019 evening performance at The Duke of York's St Martin's Lane London WC2N 4BG (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross, Leicester Square)
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