‘Rosmersholm’ review – Ibsen’s lesser-known play gets an intense modern adaptation

Tom Burke and Hayley Atwell give impassioned performances in Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation of Ibsen’s astonishing masterpiece – ★★★★★

Do we need more “timely” adaptations of classic political plays? When a fragile society breaks it’s easy for any theatrical piece to highlight the issues which come to the fore. Yet Ibsen’s underrated script Rosmersholm offers something new. A story about a pastor torn between narratives, action or inaction, it’s precisely the story to tell when we’re all wondering what to do with ourselves when the world collapses around us.

Strike‘s Tom Burke is the haunted soul and widow John Rosmer of Rosmersholm, a man who has given up his faith after losing his wife to suicide. Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) is the cunning resident Rebecca West who entangles herself in Rosmer’s privileged life and estate.

Designer Rae Smith’s take on the house is spacious and decaying. The churning of a mill and the reflection of sunlight through the windows hint at a world which revolves around Rosmersholm, with smooth elegance and class present throughout director Ian Rickson’s production. On the greyish walls, paintings of previous Rosmers – much like the silent servants – watch on. As John and his brother-in-law, Governor Andreas Kross (portrayed with conviction and grandeur by Hamilton‘s Giles Terera) discuss the upcoming general election with the help of some fermented trout, Rosmer’s past lingers in the background.

Seldom adapted and performed, Rosmersholm poses a fascinating challenge to playwrights in that it is both elaborate and paradoxical. A formidable duo, Atwell’s proactive Rebecca clashes with Burke’s passive Rosmer with a mesmerising outcome. The Three Musketeers actor nails the fragility and reserved nature of Rosmer, to the extent that his eventual epiphany and speech to his servants is incredible and sensational.

As personalities collide, the detailed socio-political commentary rises to the surface. From Kroll’s observation on post-truth media to Rosmer’s call for “listening without judgement”, remarks on issues of equality, journalism and public discourse are wide-ranging, prophetic and certainly contemporary. Ian Rickson’s interpretation of Rosmersholm creates a gripping slow-burner, rousing suspense which allows Ibsen’s erudite ideas to breathe and interconnect – with striking results.

Rosmersholm is now playing at The Duke of York’s Theatre until 20 July.

Production Images: Johan Persson.


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