Review: Mrs Affleck, National Theatre

I have to be up-front, I hate Ibsen. In fact, I dislike most Nordic playwrights, yet I always want to give them a chance so time and time again I find myself praying that on the off-chance it will grab me this time. The Donmar’s West End Ivanov gave me my first enjoyable Chekhov experience, and so I had hopes for Mrs Affleck, a loose re-telling of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf. The play has been relocated to 1950s Britain, on the coast of Kent and tells the story of Rita Affleck, a housewife and mother who has been waiting for her husband’s return. When he does return, but with his half-sister in tow, the extent of Rita’s unhappiness with her lot in life is made manifest. When tragedy strikes, the fractures in these relationships are further magnified.

Claire Skinner and Angus Wright do their best with the material as the unhappy couple, and both offer beautifully restrained performances, hinting at the simmering resentment just under the skin of these characters and this is most evident in the first scene of the second half, which crackles as their grief threatens to break their icy exteriors. However, this was the only scene which I enjoyed. I saw a preview so I guess changes could be made, but they would have to be severe. The pacing feels off as there are far too many long, dull speeches, which doesn’t play to the aforementioned strengths of the key players. Instead we get bludgeoned with unfettered verbosity and it was all too much for my liking. And whilst I applaud using live musicians, they had so little to do and even that wasn’t particularly stimulating, I ended up feeling sorry for them in their cramped little box.

So all in all, I would recommend giving this a wide berth.

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