When Ibsen wrote Rosmersholm in 1886, he looked to pit political and moral concerns of his day against each other – to engage in debate, on stage. He set his play in the midst of political upheaval; conservative politicians are being unseated, disrupted and challenged by radical and freethinking leftists. The question of equality, of fairness, are being taken seriously by the people, challenging the ruling classes to respond.
Mild and impressionable Rosmer (Tom Burke) has retired from his role as a pastor in the community, having learned of the new ideas brewing in the community from his resident, Rebecca West (Hayley Atwell), whose place in society as a woman of no real means ensures her convictions play out primarily in her own head.
The play opens a year after Rosmer’s wife has taken her own life, with a visit from her brother, Andreas Kroll (Giles Terra), the governor. When Rosmer reveals he has lost his faith, has begun to feel the need for change, he rubs up hard against Andreas’ strong Christian and conservative values – Andreas says he will be ruined, and as Rosmer aligns himself with the disgraced liberal, Peder Mortensgaard, he finds himself rebuked by all parties. It sets the scene for a turbulent discussion into motivation, conviction, morality and influence.
The costumes and set reflect the period, but there is nothing out of time about this play. All the concerns, the cynicism, the banter about politics – about who is heard, about who is ignored – are distinctly of our time. When Rosmer’s radical teacher, Ulrik Brendel (Peter Wight) reappears, he jokes about how all future politicians will abandon nuance altogether. Needless to say, there were more than a few sardonic laughs from the audience on my viewing.
Atwell is absolutely the soul of the play, imbued with tension and charm in every fibre of her being in this role. She is incredibly relatable; Atwell renders all her desires, her convictions, with a delicate kind of magnetism. Rebecca is a complex character, who could easily become the mad, manipulating woman of the piece, but Atwell doesn’t allow for this.
There is so much to enjoy in Ian Rickson’s production; it is a very worthy adaptation by Duncan Macmillan. The final moments of the play are, visually, astonishingly beautiful – Rae Smith is to be congratulated on designing such a perfectly ominous backdrop to house such immense issues.
I came away so grateful for living in my day and age as a woman – and yet, recognising that the problems Ibsen wished to tackle are those we continue to tackle, without much change, today. This is theatre that will visually excite and mentally challenge you.
Review by Christina Care
Tom Burke (Strike, The Musketeers) plays the soulful John Rosmer haunted by history and tradition. Hayley Atwell (Howards End, Captain America) is Rebecca West, an enigmatic and unpredictable, free-spirited heroine. Giles Terera (Hamilton, West End) is Andreas Kroll, a powerful moral voice, who struggles to reconcile his friendship to Rosmer amidst the changing political tides.
Henrik Ibsen’s classic examination of a country in state of political flux has been adapted by Duncan Macmillan and is directed by Ian Rickson. The cast also includes Lucy Briers (Wolf Hall, West End/Broadway) as Mrs Helseth, Jake Fairbrother (Lady from the Sea, Donmar Warehouse) as Peter Mortensgaard and Peter Wight (The Birthday Party, West End) as Ulrik Brendel.
An election looming. A country on the brink. A rabid press baying for blood. At the centre of the storm is Rosmersholm, the grand house of an influential dynasty. This is where the future will be decided by John Rosmer – a man torn between the idealised hope of the future and the ghosts of his past.
Sonia Friedman Productions presents
By Henrik Ibsen
In a new adaptation by Duncan Macmillan
Directed by Ian Rickson
by Henrik Ibsen
In a new adaption by Duncan Macmillan
Director Ian Rickson
Designer Rae Smith
Lighting Designer Neil Austin
Composer Stephen Warbeck
Sound Designer Gregory Clarke
Casting Director Amy Ball CDG
Duke of York’s Theatre
Booking to 20th July 2019