The Norway style option
Henrik Ibsen is apparently the most frequently performed dramatist in the world after Shakespeare. His rarely performed Rosmersholm (Duke of York’s Theatre) is seen as one of his masterworks. The central theme of the play is very topical though we are talking Norway in the late nineteenth century rather than twenty first century Britain. However, see if this sounds familiar. The electorate are treated with utter contempt by a governing cabal who will take any measure necessary to discredit those who dare to challenge their elitist behaviour.
Ibsen uses the key characters to expose this fetid behaviour. Recently widowed, his wife committed suicide, pastor John Rosmer (Tom Burke), a young man of blue-blooded heritage, is bereft and losing his marbles as he wanders around his stately home, Rosmersholm. His friends have deserted him, unable to tolerate his change in behaviour; Rosmer has become a liberal. Shock horror. It was then in that place in those circles. They all blame Miss West (Hayley Atwell), a young and glamorous woman who has taken up residence in Rosmersholm and one who holds views deemed to be radical and a malign influence. Together they reminded me of a couple of morose Millennials.
Ian Rickson’s production is suffocating, suffocatingly good. The intensity and oppressive nature of the setting, on Rae Smith’s initially stultifying design of a house in decline and darkness, is then revealed to be a place of aspiration and desire as flowers flood the stage, a colourful pictorial symbol of where they would like to be. Housekeeper Mrs Helseth (Lucy Briers) puts a kibosh on that illusion by explaining that in this household nobody cries and nobody laughs.
Burke and Atwell are excellent together, her flirtatious nature a front for psychological frailty with Burke, inherently pessimistic and in need of this flighty distraction. However, it is Giles Terrera’s portrayal of local governor Andreas Kroll who makes the strongest impact, disarmingly likeable and decent, he too has his foibles. A bigot convinced that everything he believes is correct and anyone who disagrees is basically wrong, a despot in the making. So we come full circle to the politics of today, there are Krolls in parties of every hue. Fortunately this is fiction, absorbing, fascinating and thoughtful. A masterwork indeed.
Meanwhile Marilena Haribou enjoys the goodwill…
Any show designed to celebrate freedom and democracy in South Africa must be good. INALA (Peacock Theatre) which stands for “abundance of goodwill” in Zulu, is a show that needs to be experienced. Created by Sisters Frimm and choreographer Mark Baldwin it features the Soweto Gospel Choir and some superb dancing from current and ex-Rambert and Royal Ballet performers. It is an exhilarating show that is a little too long and repetitive but when it uplifts it takes you through the roof. The narrative is loose and unnecessary, it is really a number of set pieces designed for singularity rather than any meshing together. When that choir sings who cares, those glorious harmonies take your breath away and because they perform in their native tongue there is verve and authenticity. Thomas J Indige leads an impressive and pulsating band and they deliver on what they promise, an abundance of goodwill and tons of skill. Amandla Awethu!
And Giovanni Bigalow is feeling the rhythm…
Las Maravillas de Mali (Barbican) is a unique fusion, a Malian-Cuban band, formed 50 years ago and last week original member Boncana Maīga led us through their musical journey. It was a seriously funky mash up of Latin American charangas and traditional African sounds which created a “sick” sound. For those of you over forty that means wicked! There was a great atmosphere in the hall, trying to sit still was not an option and the encore turned into a party. The only surprise for me is that this original line up never got the success they were expecting. Not Buena Vista maybe but this revival of a revolutionary sound rocked the Barbican. Boom!
Finally, Robbo Mike gets farcical…
Octopus Soup (Yvonne Arnaud) is a brilliant British farce. It’s fantastical, ridiculous, a plot beyond comprehension and a total hoot. How we laughed. Among all the hilarity is a web of deceit and lying worthy of a top lawyer. There is also reference to the effects of mental illness and though I felt uncomfortable laughing I couldn’t help myself when Carolyn Backhouse let rip in the role of Gloria Bicknell. As ever in these scenarios there are also people on the receiving end of the mayhem. Snappy direction from Joe Harmston, a slick cast, and the final treat in a mini coup de theatre was the appearance of Terry the octopus. Highly recommended.
Rosmersholm – 0844 871 7615
INALA – 020 7863 8000
Octopus Soup – on tour