I finally managed to catch up with Rosmersholm in the final weeks of its West End run. I’m so glad I did. After so many five star reviews it’s always a risk that you go in with high expectations and come out disappointed. Not so with Ian Rickson’s wonderful production of this lesser-known Ibsen work.
With its themes of political polarisation, conflicted desire, and the destructive power of the press, this 1886 play – adapted by Duncan Macmillan – feels like it could have been written this year. Yes, it’s wordy, but never dull.
The story opens in the ancestral home of John Rosmer, a year after the suicide of his wife. The house reeks of neglect and is spoken of as a place where no laughter is heard.
Tom Burke is absolutely solid as Rosmer, a pastor who has turned his back on his faith, but the two standout performances come from Hayley Atwell as Rebecca West, the feminist friend of Rosmer’s late wife, and Giles Terera as Governer Kroll, Rosmer’s politically-motivated brother in law.
Atwell makes an instant impression as she sweeps into Rae Smith’s expansive set and insists on opening the windows and tearing down the dust sheets over the Rosmer family portraits. Neil Austin’s superb lighting design often makes scenes look like an oil painting come to life.
A later scene in which Kroll presents Rebecca with a series of shocking revelations about her past sees both Terera and Atwell on searing form. Rickson ends things with a set piece that reminded me of the jaw-dropping conclusion to Stephen Daldry’s production of An Inspector Calls.
I’ve been lucky enough to see some stunning Ibsens over the years such as Carrie Cracknell’s A Doll’s House at the Young Vic, and Matthew Warchus’s The Master Builder at the Old Vic. What a delight to add this rarity to the collection.
Rosmersholm is at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 20 July