“Critics! Do I work to amuse them? Can they judge me as equals? – when they are themselves without my gift.”
Part of the The Print Room’s artistic mandate has been to unearth little-known works by major playwrights to bring them new life and after Alan Ayckbourn and Tennessee Williams, it is Henrik Ibsen’s turn. Here, his final play When We Dead Awaken has been adapted by Mike Poulton into a new version named Judgement Day and in James Dacre’s production, features some luxury casting in both Michael Pennington and Penny Downie working hard in this intimate theatre.
As with much of his later work, Ibsen casts an excoriating self-reflecting view on the life and longevity of the artist. Arnold Rubek is an ageing sculptor, hugely successful with his early work yet now lacking inspiration with both his work which has become perfunctorily commercial and in his personal life, his young wife Maia cares nothing for art and their’s appears to be a mutually antagonistic relationship. However, the arrival of his long-lost muse Irena and the animalistic Baron Ulfheim offers challenges and possibly renewed hope for both of them.
Once again, the sheer flexibility of this space is demonstrated with a traverse staging, Mike Britton’s lurid turquoise loop dividing the audience and creating a strange, non-representational space around which ghostly figures float (although they are sometimes a little too hidden) and within which our protagonists do battle. And this is where Judgement Day really shines: Pennington lends Rubek an irascibility tempered with hints of huge charisma and Downie’s Irena – a woman who feels utterly exploited by the artist who robbed her soul without giving her the love she craved in return – is a persuasively damaged, vocally intriguing presence.
Sara Vickers’ Maia is nicely perky against these more experienced hands and connects well with Philip Correia’s strident Baron in search of more visceral thrills than offered by Rubek, but they are somewhat overshadowed by the central relationship which is foregrounded by all aspects of this production. The relationship between artist and muse, and the work created by them, is probed with an unflinching gaze and though there’s little real fresh insight that is provided here, there’s certainly much of interest.