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Review Roundup: JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN Starring Simon Russell Beale

What did the critics think of Lucinda Coxon's new version of Ibsen's penultimate play?

Review Roundup: JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN Starring Simon Russell Beale

Ibsen's penultimate play, John Gabriel Borkman, has just opened at the Bridge Theatre. Borkman was once an illustrious entrepreneur, but has been brought low by a prison sentence for fraud. Obsessed by dreams of his comeback, his estranged wife plots the restoration of the family name. When her sister arrives unannounced, she triggers a desperate showdown with the past.

Lucinda Coxon's new version stars Simon Russell Beale and is directed by Nicholas Hytner. So what did the critics think?

Cindy Marcolina: BroadwayWorld: Simon Russell Beale takes on the disgraced mogul, Nicholas Hytner directs. Anna Fleischle designs the show. It's a winning team, but the piece leaves the audience as cold as a Norwegian winter nonetheless. Lucinda Coxton writes a new version, putting the characters' priorities in perspective by slipping in idioms relating to business and stocks inconspicuously.

Arifa Akbar: The Guardian: Russell Beale glitters with pathological narcissism yet never flattens into one-dimensional monstrousness. A delusional egotist who blames others for his fall ("there are different rules for exceptional people"), he bears obvious resonances to high-profile men who have fallen hubristically from a great height (at No 10, the White House and beyond). It is a penetrating character study of highly flammable, alpha masculinity and the play keenly dramatises its destructive effect on the family unit - especially on its women.

Andrzej Lukowski: Time Out: It's an eccentric play, and undeniably less 'important' feeling than Ibsen's prodigious greatest hits. But it has a whipsmart humour and wonderful momentum to it: a depiction of frozen lives finally experiencing one last calamitous thaw before the end of their days. Hytner directs fluidly and kinetically, and the lack of an interval is a smart idea to keep the pace up and stop it from getting too cosy. It feels less bogged down in symbolism than some other Ibsen obscurities. And the acting is great, Russell Beale and Williams in particular.

Nick Curtis: Evening Standard: The three central performances are focused and intense, but each ends exactly where it started. It's not the three stars' fault this doesn't land right. All Ibsen productions need to be absolutely pitch perfect if they are not to seem mordant and overwrought, especially those of the more obscure plays. Here a new but stilted translation by Lucinda Coxon, and a groovily brutalist 20th-century interior by Anna Fleischle, fail to leaven the 19th-century gloom.

Patrick Marmion: Daily Mail: Trickiest of all is Russell Beale's role as the former Norse oligarch. Too cuddly to be tragic, he looks like a frazzled King Lear who's overdone the marmalade sandwiches. Perhaps it is best to present Borkman as such a Johnsonian muddle. How else can you make this contemptuous old crook seem loveable? Today, his dreams of world domination look more like a serious personality disorder.

Clive Davis: The Times: It's a measure of Beale's charisma that he persuades us to follow Borkman's saga to its bleak conclusion. Even so, you're still left wondering why director Nicholas Hytner thought it worth resurrecting a play which, even in this modern version by Lucinda Coxon, slips so readily into bombast and all-guns-blazing melodrama. The play only lasts an hour and three quarters, without an interval, yet feels longer.

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

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From This Author - Aliya Al-Hassan

Aliya Al-Hassan is UK Managing Editor of BroadwayWorld. A London-based theatre critic and journalist, she has a life-long passion for the arts, with a focus on theatre and opera. She is a... (read more about this author)

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