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The Lady from the Sea at the Print Room at the Coronet

Marina Bye, Adrian Rawlins & Molly Windsor in a scene from The Lady From The Sea by Henrik Ibsen @ Print Room, Coronet. Directed by Marit Moum Aune. Credit Tristram Kenton
Marina Bye, Adrian Rawlins & Molly Windsor in a scene from The Lady From The Sea by Henrik Ibsen @ Print Room, Coronet. Directed by Marit Moum Aune. Credit Tristram Kenton

I should say before I start, that I don’t really like Ibsen. Despite being the second most performed writer after Shakespeare, I find his proto-feminist scripts dated, and his high-realism to be at odds with his heavily idea-oriented scripts. Though Ibsen ranks among Euripides, Bernard Shaw and Strindberg as writers apt for reinterpretation and adaptation, I find his ‘strong female characters’ are often quite archaic and simplistic representations. That all said, and perhaps because of it, the Norwegian Ibsen Company’s production of The Lady From The Sea is really very good.

The narrative focusses on the unhappiness of a disjointed family living in West Norway. As in all Ibsen plays, the arrival and leavings of various characters manage to unhitch the uneasy stability of family life, revealing underlying tensions and frustrations. The central relationship is that of Wangel (Adrian Rawlins) and his new wife, Ellida (Pia Tjelta), who are struggling to find the balance of give and take that marriage and family requires. As suggested in the title, there is some suggestion that Ellida is ‘from the sea’, as she swims every morning, and talks endlessly about the beauty and fascination of the waves. Their relationship is put to the test when Ellida begins to drift and dream of her long lost lover, who she feels will return imminently. This unhappy love triangle is Ibsen’s inroad to examining female agency, male entitlement, freedom and longing.

Erlend Birkeland’s set is relatively plain, with the entire stage being covered with sand and stones, in front of what appears to be a house, but is perhaps also a sauna. Aside from a couple of chairs and steps, the eye is drawn to a neon-lit fish tank in the upstage corner, perhaps an allusion to Ellida’s feeling of being trapped on land. Nils Petter Molvær’s sound design is relatively unobtrusive, and perhaps a little overmodest, adding very little to the play.

Marit Moum Aune’s decision to script parts of the dialogue in Norwegian (though the original text is in Danish) is a clever one, suggesting a separation between Wangel and Ellida and also alluding to the huge geographical separation between northern Norway and the South (Norway is 2500 kilometers North to South, with the northern parts largely unpopulated). There was perhaps a suggestion that Ellida was related to the Sami people, as she is distinctly ‘other’ to the rest of the family, an avenue not normally pursued by singularly English adaptations.

Ellida is torn between returning to the sea routes and leaving Wangel for ‘The Stranger’, a sailor travelling north. The central crux is her apparent choice between her two lovers, though both feel that she belongs to them, neither recognising her agency in her life. This male entitlement is echoed across each of the male characters, as Arnholm (Kare Conradi) more or less forces Bolette (Marina Bye) to marry him in order to get monetary support for her studies. Bye finds a powerful balance between determined and desperate in the face of patriarchal power.

Though each of the female characters are the decision makers, Ibsen frames their choices strictly within a male framework. Under Marit Moum Aune’s direction, the men are equal parts pathetic and powerful; one can’t help but note contemporary parallels with the gatekeepers of success in the arts industry. The play concludes with female solidarity and the men pushed behind. Not exactly triumphant, but maybe determined.

5 Star Rating

Review by Thomas Froy

Acclaimed Norwegian Director Marit Moum Aune and Kåre Conradi, Artistic Director of the Norwegian Ibsen Company, lead a joint English/Norwegian production, with members of both cast and creative teams from both countries.

Ellida, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter, was born where the fjord meets the ocean. Trapped in a difficult marriage to a doctor in a small provincial town, she longs for the open sea. But the return of a former lover after a long absence means that for the first time in her life she has a real choice. So should she choose a seductive freedom, or commit to the familiar life she feels has stifled her? In this new version, the doctor and his family are English, bringing a new dimension to the relationships within the play.

The production brings with it a deep understanding of Norwegian culture and the world Ibsen wrote about – from the relationship with nature, the silence surrounding personal grief, to the effect of the midnight sun on the emotional mindset of inhabitants of the far North of the country.

Creative team
Marit Moum Aune – Director
Mari Vatne Kjeldstadli – Dramaturg
Erlend Birkeland – Set and Costume Designer
Simon Bennison – Lighting Designer
Nils Petter Molvær – Composer
Leila Bertrand – Casting Director
Jan Christopher Næss – Speech Coach
Emnet Kebreab – Producer, Norwegian Ibsen Company

Cast
Edward Ashley – Lyngstrand
Kåre Conradi – Arnholm
Adrian Rawlins – Wangel
Øystein Røger – The Stranger
Pia Tjelta – Ellida
Molly Windsor – Hilde
Marina Bye – Bolette

Technical Team
Christina Johannessen – Company Stage Manager
Kelly Rosser – Assistant Stage Manager
Vibeke Brathagen – Surtitle Operator

The Print Room at the Coronet and the Norwegian Ibsen Company present a 130th Anniversary Production of
THE LADY FROM THE SEA
By Henrik Ibsen
In a new version by Mari Vatne Kjeldstadli
Based on the translation by May-Brit Akerholt
Directed by Marit Moum Aune
8 February – 9 March 2019
https://www.the-print-room.org

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