Review Roundup: Critics Weigh in on ROSMERSHOLM
Rosmersholm began performances at the Duke of York's Theatre on April 24th, celebrating opening night on May 2nd. The run will end on July 20th.
Tom Burke (Strike, The Musketeers) plays the soulful John Rosmer haunted by history and tradition. Hayley Atwell (Howards End, Captain America) is Rebecca West, an enigmatic and unpredictable, free-spirited heroine. Giles Terera (Hamilton, West End) is Andreas Kroll, a powerful moral voice, who struggles to reconcile his friendship to Rosmer amidst the changing political tides.
Henrik Ibsen's classic examination of a country in state of political flux has been adapted by Duncan MacMillan and is directed by Ian Rickson. The cast also includes Lucy Briers (Wolf Hall, West End/Broadway) as Mrs Helseth, Jake Fairbrother (Lady from the Sea, Donmar Warehouse) as Peter Mortensgaard and Peter Wight (The Birthday Party, West End) as Ulrik Brendel.
An election looming. A country on the brink. A rabid press baying for blood. At the centre of the storm is Rosmersholm, the grand house of an influential dynasty. This is where the future will be decided by John Rosmer - a man torn between the idealised hope of the future and the ghosts of his past.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: Macmillan's version, fluidly directed by Ian Rickson, is full of witty contemporary echoes. Kroll fears giving the public power to vote against their own interests, duped by the press (hello, Brexit), and envisions a doomed electoral discourse based on "feelings, not facts". However, Kroll has bought the rival paper to the firebrand liberal one, and wants to use it to sway public opinion - even if it means digging up scandalous dirt.
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: Hayley Atwell and Tom Burke smoulder in this rarely revived play by Henrik Ibsen. It's a haunting vision of two passionate characters weighed down by the past - and despite being more than 130 years old, feels sharply up-to-date in its sense of the ugly ambition and wild hypocrisy that can thrive at a time of political crisis.
Michael Billington, The Guardian: This has been dubbed Ibsen's darkest and most complex play. It is also rarely revived but Ian Rickson's breathtaking production does justice to its passion and politics, and boasts stellar performances from Hayley Atwell and Tom Burke. They richly deliver on Shaw's notion of "the deep black flood of feeling from the first moment to the last"
Natasha Tripney, The Stage: Rosmersholm is a bleak play about people destroyed by systems, political and social, that they cannot escape. The revival can't help but feel timely in this regard. However, for all the turbulent emotions on display, Ian Rickson's production feels frustratingly stiff and static. Atwell's rich, humane performance transcends this, but it remains a rather thinky, talky production. It engages the brain without stirring the heart.
Matt Trueman, Variety: Duncan MacMillan's muscular adaptation brings out the play's various binds with brilliant clarity. His language uncovers contemporary political resonances - the privileges, inequalities and the insistence on purity - in a way that pulls Rickson's period dress production into limbo, torn between past and present. There's nothing dusty about it, no buttoned-up formality, no tiptoeing etiquette. Emotionally, it flays the flesh off the play, in large part thanks to Atwell's excoriating performance. Intellectually, it complexifies its component parts. Terera's compassionate conservative can talk, fervently, about the importance of community while Peter Wight's shambling alcoholic lecturer - another free radical constrained by his past - rails loftily for the people. Austin's lighting, cleverly, casts people in different lights at different times, warm candle glow and cold moon shine, in a reflection of Rosmer's uncertainty and, indeed, our own.
Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter: A rare revival of one of Ibsen's lesser plays, Ian Rickson's production of Rosmersholm is a thing of painterly beauty to behold, but also something of a starchy endurance test to sit through. Published in 1886, between The Wild Duck and Hedda Gabler, this minor autumnal work feels like a mixtape of familiar Ibsen motifs: buried family secrets, illegitimate children, proto-suffragette heroines trapped in the wrong century, fin-de-siècle angst about declining religious faith and rising social equality. There are juicy dramatic undercurrents here, but Rickson struggles to tease them out in this staid Masterpiece Theater production.
Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut: So even with the presence of the 'Avengers'-adjacent - not to mention terrific - Hayley Atwell in the cast, it feels spectacularly audacious of super-producer Sonia Friedman to just bung a production of this obscurity cold into the West End. And she's pretty much pulled it off. Although clearly somewhat massaged by adapting playwright Duncan MacMillan, Ibsen's depiction of a fragmenting, polarised society torn between extremes of right and left, faith and atheism, just on the cusp of a monumental election, feels spectacularly timely.
Mark Ludmon, British Theatre: He is played with intensity by Tom Burke, giving him a buttoned-up seriousness that erupts with passion as he wrestles with his inner conflicts and loss of faith. But Hayley Atwell shines as Rebecca, fully embodying her struggle between idealistic beliefs and love for Rosmer. Despite disdain for equality and the working classes, Kroll is more than a right-wing villain thanks to Giles Terera who conveys the sense of a man terrified of change and social unrest.
John Nathan, Metro: The air in Ian Rickson's atmospheric production is thick with the stultifying social values embodied by Rosmer's judgmental brother-in-law Kroll - the excellent Giles Terera (above), whose previous performance on the London stage in musical Hamilton won him an Olivier award. But if West can persuade Rosmer to stand up for his beliefs in the forthcoming elections, change may be in the wind that blows through the windows of this dark house's drawing-room.
Scott Matthewman, The Reviews Hub: In Ibsen's world, and even more so in Macmillan's, politics is in thrall to the power of the celebrity endorsement, as both Kroll and his rival Mortensgaard (Jake Fairbrother) whirl between desiring Rosmer's backing, and seeking to bring him down if he does not give it. But the true power of politics is not in its effects, but in the power of owning the media: with the rival politicos each owning one of the town's two newspapers, their power is already far greater than any elections could bestow upon them.
Photo Credit: Johan Persson