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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Almeida


  Paul Hilton and Helen McCrory/Ph:Tristram Kenton

Can the dead let go of the living? That's just one of the questions posed, disturbingly but also scintillatingly, in the rarely seen Ibsen play, Rosmersholm, now receiving a top-drawer Almeida Theatre revival from Tony winner Anthony Page (A Doll's House). Written immediately prior to The Lady From the Sea, which has just been revisited to startling effect at the Arcola Theatre courtesy a sublime leading lady in Lia Williams, Rosmersholm brings another blistering actress back to the stage in Helen McCrory, here playing that modern woman, the haunted Rebecca West. Got up in a blonde wig that lends the English thesp a passing resemblance to Nicole Kidman, Rosmersholm makes one yearn for McCrory to forsake her newfound LA home and do more theater work here, just as - when it comes to Ibsen - there can scarcely in London these days be enough.

That said, Rosmersholm can be a particularly tough nut to crack, and one's hopes are immediately raised by a first glimpse of the pristine, slightly bleached-out quality of Hildegard Bechtler's set, itself rooted in the infinitely suggestive canvases of the Scandinavian artist Vilhelm Hammershoi, a near-contemporary of Ibsen who is the subject this summer of an exhibition at London's Royal Academy. This is a home where everything is carefully in place - arguably too much so, as might suit the house of the widower, Johannes Rosmer (Paul Hilton), whose wife, Beate, took her life over a year before but whose lingering presence has lent an air of paralysis to her onetime abode.

Not that Rosmer is allowing himself to ossify: the scion of an important family in the community that is discussed in terms one might apply to the Kennedys in our own time, he speaks candidly of having abandoned his faith and resigned from the priesthood. (Were this play premiered now, it would surely be entitled Doubt.) No longer a practising Christian, Rosmer is derided as a stain on the spotless reputation of a near-noble family that is itself still adjusting to the drowning of Beate and the different ways in which Rebecca West, particularly, may have colluded in the suicide of her beloved Rosmer's spouse. To acknowledge as much is to be torn between this world and that other that lies beckoning from beyond, which exists by way of welcome and also warning. It's small wonder, in this context, that Peter Mumford's quite literally brilliant lighting replaces the expected Ibsen gloom with piercing shafts of illumination. Those exist in inviting if marked contrast to the enveloping darkness that is the devouring metaphysical trope threaded throughout all of Ibsen.

Page's cast thankfully play Mike Poulton's new version of the text with surpassing lightness, Hilton especially lending the same modern feel to his long-haired Rosmer as he did two-and-a-half years ago when playing Ekdal in the superlative Donmar revival of The Wild Duck. It's important in his own yearnings and sensuality, however clamped down, that Rosmer set himself against a senior nemesis in his brother-in-law Kroll (Malcolm Sinclair, in fine fiery form), president of the town's temperance society and a doctor who has scant time for Rosmer's newfound independent-mindedness and free-thinking ways. As others come to claim him,Rosmer in turn throws his lot increasingly toward a symbiotic presence in Rebecca, who is confronting charges of immorality and illegitimacy that threaten to derail her, as well. McCrory plays this woman with a past without a trace of hysterics or histrionics but coolly where necessary and surpassingly intelligently throughout


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