“Is it just road-making that’s put you in such a good mood?”
Richard Eyre’s revelatory take on Ibsen’s Ghosts was a deserving multiple Olivier winner last year so it is little surprise to see the Almeida asking him back for more, this time taking on one of his later plays Little Eyolf. And as with Ghosts, the play has been coaxed and condensed into interval-free intensity, the perfect frame for its arresting modernity.
And it is surprising, as though written in 1894, its portrayal of fraught sexual tension in a marriage is as direct and frank a exploration of female sexuality (and sexual desire) as any playwright has come up with since. In the cooling calm of Tim Hatley’s set, Rita Allmers is a wife and mother but finds those roles in conflict as she resents son Eyolf for distracting husband Alfred’s attentions away from her.
For she’s a woman in thrall to her sensuality and compellingly so in Lydia Leonard’s performance here, desperate to fulfil her desires and downbeat because she can’t. And through tragedy (poor Eyolf really doesn’t have a good time of it) and the tensions of the unspoken truths between her husband and his half-sister Asta, there’s a powerfully believable sense of the scale of Rita’s emotional journey.
Jolyon Coy is superb by her side as Alfred, his own simmering repressed nature slowly revealed in poignant detail and there’s excellent support from Eve Ponsonby’s Asta and Sam Hazeldine as her beau Bjarne. Eyre’s production is about measured emotion rather than explosive drama – Jon Driscoll’s video work pointing up a heightened theatricality – but it’s still masterfully done.