Review of “Rosmersholm” – Almeida Theatre

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Last night my uncle and my husband and I went to the wilds of Islington (which is actually far less wild than Dalston, where Ibsen and I last crossed swords) to the Almeida to see Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. I’m on an Ibsen quest, like my Pinter quest, though Ibsen is making it easier by being dead and thus not making it possible to have new play added. We ponied up for a program, which revealed some important Ibsen tidbits for me, especially regarding the order in which he wrote his plays: Rosmersholm preceded Hedda Gabler by four years (1886 and 1890), and was written just before The Lady from the Sea. This gave me an idea of where he was in terms of his skills as a playwright – oddly, near the height of his powers, given that the nearly perfect John Gabriel Borkman was written in 1896 and his last play in 1899. (I can also now say that I have my list of plays to see: I’m going to plan on skipping the critical failures, which I don’t think will ever be produced anyway, but I also have a dire need to see Ghosts and Peer Gynt.)

Rosmersholm (the home of the Rosmer family is the correct translation, I believe) is an odd play. I ended the first act feeling elated, but the second act left me dissatisfied and the third disgusted. As in Lady from the Sea, this comes down to problems with the script. The first act was very naturalistic, mostly concerning a confrontation between Mr. Rosmer (Paul Hilton) and an old friend of the family, Doctor Kroll (Malcolm Sinclair, last seen in Dealer’s Choice – boy, can this guy act!). Listening to Kroll go on about the values of conservatism, the ignorance of the masses, how wives should get their opinions from their husbands, how liberals are evil and a force of corruption to true and noble values, and how wretched the press is was (etc.) was actually a blast. He was strongly opposed to many of the things I personally believe in, but, even though some of his opinions were merely dated, so many of them seemed to still hold relevance today and I found his rants quite intriguing. I was also fascinated by how quickly he shrugged off Rebecca’s (Helen McCrory) attempts to engage him in conversation – after all, what could a woman know about politics! Then Rosmer dropped his bomb on Kroll, the shit hit the fan, exciting debates about atheism and what liberals believe in ensued, and I was hooked, and ready to recommend this play to all of my friends.

Unfortunately, act two descended into, I don’t know, something like “truthyism” but perhaps better described as “writeryistic.” Plot points need to be made, and what better way to do it than two letters sent by a dead person! (I was kind of reminded of the arrival of heralds in the Greek plays, describing off-screen action, such as murders and wars.) We just weren’t buying it and the endless exposition was beginning to grate. I couldn’t buy Kroll rejecting Rosmer’s friendship outright in act one, and his subsequent return in act two layered a second thick improbability on the first. C’mon, this is all supposed to be naturalistic, have the people actually act naturally!

Speaking of which, I was really having problems with Helen McCrory’s costuming and performance. Victorian women didn’t keep their hair in modern office girl fluffy half-twists, they didn’t slop their bodies all over the place, and, in general, I just think she didn’t do her research on properly playing a woman of the era, even if she was a free thinker. I also found the way she made herself tremble when she was confronting Rosmer just a little too much. How is it that an English actor can go to so much effort to get an accent right and then totally drop the personal representation of a historical era?

The penny finally dropped in the third act, when Ibsen threw reality out the door and suddenly went for a sort of Young Werther gothic drama. Rebecca’s revelations were all a little too much to be believed, Rosmer’s endless mood changes were completely over the top, and the ending was just … ridiculous and as over the top as a pasted on Hollywood ending a la Lady and the Sea. If Ibsen has gone to all of this trouble to create real people with real problems, why have them start acting like silly ninnies just to wrap up the show conclusively? All three of us grumbled as we left – such high hopes, so cruelly dashed! I’ll still keep seeing Ibsen, but I’m hoping he doesn’t let me down as roughly as he did last night.

In other news, my esteemed colleagues the West End Whingers have been blamed by a cast member of Gone with the Wind for that show’s “untimely” demise. I think it’s ridiculous to think that anyone who pays to see a preview as putrid as the one they described should be considered in anyway obliged to keep mum about it – in my mind, they were doing a public service! If you want it to be a secret, then workshop the show or have more dress rehearsals, and if you’re genuinely concerned about what to add and what to keeep and how it will play in front of a live audience, then for God’s sake do what they did for Hairspray and trial it in some smaller theatrical markets (Seattle and Chicago in this example). Could this show have succeeded? Possibly, with months more of rewrites – but from what I heard about the songs, I think perhaps not.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thrusday, June 12th.)

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2 Responses to “Review of “Rosmersholm” – Almeida Theatre”

  1. Theatre Review: Rosmersholm « Feigned Mischief Says:

    [...] Almeida is staging it’s version of Rosmersholm with Ms. McCrory as the leading lady. Like webcowgirl, I am also on an Ibsen quest, which I am doing the same with Shakespeare, Chekhov, Shaw and Pinter. For the record, this is now [...]

  2. Review – Ghosts – Arcola Theatre « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    [...] I was, of course (if you’ve been reading this blog for long), interested because of my deep love of Ibsen’s work (and previous mostly successful interpretations of Ibsen by the Arcola) [...]

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