Review: Rosmersholm, Almeida Theatre

Rosmersholm is one of Ibsen’s lesser performed plays and is presented at the Almeida Theatre in a new version here by Mike Poulton. It is also notable for marking the return to the stage of the wonderful Helen McCrory, an Islington local, and one of my favourite actresses.

Rosmer, a former pastor, is oppressed by a whole series of factors: his conservative ancestry, guilt over his wife’s suicide and loss of religious faith. But, aided by his companion, Rebecca West, he believes he can set out on a new path of missionary idealism. This, however, turns out to be a fantasy as he is not strong in his new path, society turns against him and his new democratic ideals, his closeness to West makes them become a subject of scandal, and as Rebecca has her own demons too, sets them on a path where the weight of the past threatens everything.

Helen McCrory is pleasingly brilliant as Rebecca West. Dressed in a blonde wig, I’m not sure if this is a hangover from her recent filming of Harry Potter as Narcissa Malfoy or an attempt to make her look more Norwegian (if so, it doesn’t work). Fortunately McCrory’s acting is so wonderfully subtle and restrained that it is easy to ignore her hair(!), it is her passion and desire that drives so much of what happens but it is all presented in such an understated manner, it is hard not to be crushed by the way in which her dreams are destroyed.

Malcolm Sinclair is convincingly sinister as the outraged conservative schoolmaster, artfully indiscreet in pursuing the downfall of West and Paul Hilton is also good as the directionless pastor Rosmer, nervously unsure of himself and his newfound course of action.

It looks absolutely beautiful. Hildegard Bechtler’s design and Peter Mumford’s lighting combine to starkly suggest a Munch-like painting. And the contrasting of the light and dark is so effectively done, especially when played against the darkening of the moods of the protagonists.

So despite a winning performance from Helen McCrory at the centre of this play, it is one that admired rather than loved. It has as much to do with my own response to Ibsen I am sure, but I just haven’t had that lightbulb moment with any of his plays yet. Still, this is handsomely mounted and impeccably performed so will most likely do very well.

Photo: Johan Persson

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