Brought to us by Ottisdotter Productions, Baron’s Court Theatre is hosting Olaf, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Olaf Liljekrans, running from Wednesday 20th June to Saturday 30th June 2018.
Ottisdotter’s focus is in “lesser known and obscure plays”* and as one of Ibsen’s works outside the 12-play ‘Ibsen Cycle’ and one that has not been seen in the UK for over 100 years, this would certainly meet the criteria of lesser known.
Written before Ibsen put such strong emphasis on social commentary and demonstrating his personal beliefs, Olaf is considered one of the more lighthearted of his works, a fact that may have been some of the cause of it’s falling into relative obscurity. However, while Otisdotter’s presentation of Olaf has its comedic moments, there is a healthy balance of tension and conflict – something that the cast portray admirably.
The plot is recognizable as an almost farcical scenario where a couple are to be wed and are not in love with each other but are in fact in love with other people. This is set against a backdrop of feuding factions and eldritch influence. As Ibsen supposedly got his inspiration from a folk tale, the familiar nature of the plot can almost be forgiven and in many respects, the ability to compare the piece to other plays (A Midsummer Night’s Dream for example) are to be expected.
Otisdotter’s realization of this piece uses a minimalist staging to great effect and for a significant amount of the play, stage lighting is used as a key demarcation between areas, times and atmosphere. A high demand well delivered.
Other props are limited to such small things as chairs, candles and petals but again, well thought out placement and use give them significance beyond their usual function. The stripped backstage has a slight subduing effect on the lighter nature of the piece but it’s a decision that I think has been made to maximise what might otherwise be a bit of a tight space. Understandable.
The choreography is designed around the space too and there are times when the production moves into the territory of being immersive (without being interactive) to make full use of the room. It adds to the piece and works with the performance and the space rather than being a gimmick in some way. The execution generally is high quality, and the parts have been cast very well. I did pick up on a few stumbled lines, but these can be easily forgiven on the opening night and when the cast interaction is so good. Some of the glances and facial expressions between the cast were excellent and added something that could be missed if you were focusing elsewhere, which I always love.
The trouble is – all of these positive elements are let down by Ibsen. Well, not just Ibsen I suppose but Ibsen and the fact that the reinvention of the work hasn’t reinvented it far enough. Some of the speeches are long, drawn-out affairs that could have been cut back and the characters and plot are (as I’ve already said) very familiar.
With Otisdotter’s remit of working on plays “with dimensions that emphasise the roles of women in society”, the presence of strong female characters gives the choice to do Olaf some context but given the age of the piece it’s societal context could be questioned and I do wonder what the drive to do this particular play was as it really felt like the material itself was the deciding factor on this piece not living up to its potential.
All credit to the cast and to the direction, the delivery of the play is strong and Olaf’s familiar nature has its place and appeal, for sure. It would have been nice, however, to see some modernisation and a bit of enthusiastic editing to give the piece a new lease of life.
Review by Damien Russell
Last presented at London’s Adelphi Theatre in June 1911, Henrik Ibsen’s Olaf is being performed for the first time in the United Kingdom in over 100 years.
Henrik Ibsen’s Olaf Liljekrans is one of his first realist dramas in prose. Set one summer in a remote mountain district of Norway, two warring families come together to celebrate a matrimonial union of both of the Houses. However, all is not well when the groom, himself, disappears.
A dark tale of great humour, showing uncorrupted nature set against a corrupt human society, Ibsen’s Olaf can be seen as an early development of his later Master Builder.
Lady Kirsten Rebekka Magnúsdóttir
Lord Arne Che Watson
Hemming Joe Lewis
Ingeborg Sarah Madden
Alfhild Grace Monroe
Olaf Teddy Robson
Thorgjerd Mark Ewbank
Director: Mark Ewbank
AD: Holly Prescott
Design: Rosalind Murdoch
Barons Court Theatre, 28a Comeragh Rd, Hammersmith, London W14 9HR
Wednesday 20th June – Saturday 30th June 2018
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