Here in a thrilling new translation, Ottisdotter presents Ibsen’s early play, Olaf Liljekrans, not seen in London since a production at the Bedford Hall in Chelsea in 1925. The obvious question is was the play worth revival? The answer is a very definite yes and not simply for the way that Olaf Liljekrans foreshadows Ibsen’s later works such as Hedda Gabler and The Master Builder.
At this stage of his career, Ibsen was still channelling Shakespeare and there is much that is familiar in this story of thwarted love among the mountains – the young lovers, indifferent to social boundaries, and the older generation whose ambitions and prejudices threaten that love. Ibsen’s genius is plain in how he takes these and other tropes of romantic comedy and creates something deeper and much more satisfying. That the multi-layering of his characters is so clear in this production is in large part down to the excellent translation, which preserves Ibsen’s rhythms and imagery and makes the play wholly accessible to a 21st-century audience.
In the central, complex role of Alfhild, a sparkling Grace Monroe is superb, carrying the audience over the improbabilities of Ibsen’s plot as she moves from an Arcadian existence in the mountains into the Liljekrans’ homestead and beyond. Her lover, Olaf, is played by an immensely charismatic Teddy Robson who gives a nuanced and convincing performance as the young aristocrat who finds himself torn between desire and duty. As Ingeborg, the pert daughter of a local landowner, Sarah Madden is variously coy and lustful according to Ibsen’s not wholly convincing demands but there are times when she winsomely smoothes over plot subtleties that might have been better pointed up. The fourth young lover is Hemming, played endearingly by Joe Lewis who provides an excellent comic foil to a simply outstanding Che Watson as Ingeborg’s father.
A few aspects of this well-directed production do require attention: the sound effects are too quiet, at least in this subterranean venue, the decision to give a minor character a distracting accent is jarringly wrong, not least because he cannot deliver it convincingly; and the part of Olaf’s mother, Lady Kirsten, needs to play with greater subtlety and understanding if the role is intended, as it should be, to be more than a pantomime villainess. But, despite these minor shortcomings, this is an excellent, fast-moving and powerful production of an unjustly neglected play.
Review by Louis Mazzini
Henrik Ibsen’s Olaf Liljekrans is one of his first realist dramas in prose. Set one summer in a remote mountain district of Norway, two warring families come together to celebrate a matrimonial union of both of the Houses. However, all is not well when the groom, himself, disappears.
A dark tale of great humour, showing uncorrupted nature set against a corrupt human society, Ibsen’s Olaf can be seen as an early development of his later Master Builder.
Lady Kirsten Rebekka Magnúsdóttir
Lord Arne Che Watson
Hemming Joe Lewis
Ingeborg Sarah Madden
Alfhild Grace Monroe
Olaf Teddy Robson
Thorgjerd Mark Ewbank
Director: Mark Ewbank
AD: Holly Prescott
Design: Rosalind Murdoch
Barons Court Theatre, 28a Comeragh Rd, Hammersmith, London W14 9HR
Wednesday 20th June – Saturday 30th June 2018