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Wife by Samuel Adamson at Kiln Theatre | Review

Karen Fishwick (Daisy) and Sirine Saba (Suzannah).
Karen Fishwick (Daisy) and Sirine Saba (Suzannah). Photo by Marc Brenner.

How can something be both blistering and beautiful? Funny, tragic, hopeful, searing and true, Samuel Adamson’s Wife is that rare combination of a play of ideas and a play of feelings. Indhu Rubasingham’s direction masterfully takes a densely-worded play and turns it into a sensory spectacle. Her staging and pace alight our nerve-endings whilst – with perfect economy – giving us a tight and compelling drama.

This play is clever and knowing plus uses Ibsen’s A Doll’s House as its spine – and to stimulate its soul. Adamson’s work could have so easily slouched on that spine, expecting the 1879 Norwegian masterpiece to do all the work whilst just blogging around it with winks, nudges and cute 21st-century chit-chat. Equally, Wife could have fallen into the abyss of a snazzy re-interpretative scene study showcase interspersed by post-structuralist lecturing without any real soul as a drama in its own right. Fraught with this danger, it is all the more exciting that Wife absolutely nails it as theatre that tickles, punches and conspires with your best self. Adamson’s play is cunning, canny and emotionally mature without taking itself too seriously. It is just layered enough without requiring a diagram. Despite being two solid acts with an interval, time flies. Rubasingham’s direction deserves enormous credit for making sure the funnies hit with needle-sharp precision and the tension is raised and released as if it were conducted by a true maestro. Her gift with timing and pacing tell us she is such a maestro.

Intersecting with different productions of A Doll’s House from the middle of the 20th century to the middle of the 21st century, we meet different Noras as we puzzle over the different interpretation of her ‘miracle’. Ibsen’s play is a catalyst (and as Wife progresses, becomes context and counterpoint) but you don’t need to be a scholar in 19th century Scandinavian drama to get it. If you’ve never heard of Ibsen but are interested in how the stories we are told and tell ourselves affect the choices we have and make, Wife will intrigue and entertain you. There are a few references that are fairly specific to 2019 Britain, but they are bits of business that charm and are not central to the story. There is no pre-requisite for enjoying or understanding Wife other than being a human being with flaws, longings and relationships.

Assembling Richard Kent and Guy Hoare for scenic, costume and lighting design (respectively) is a winning combination. Alexander Caplen’s sound design plays a key role in not just building the worlds of each era but provoking our neurons when hilarity and tragedy turn on a dime. David Shrubsole’s original score is a vital part of the aural tapestry that makes this word-rich play move at a pace and connect to our emotions.

Rubasingham has picked a great cast and gets tremendous performances from them. Sirine Saba as the first portrayer of Nora, Suzannah, we meet is commanding. Throughout the play she demonstrates her impressive versatility in a number of other roles – some of them belly-laughingly hilarious and others saucy, wistful or lost.

Karen Fishwick first appears in the pivotal role of Daisy (a character whom we will discover has central significance to the modern epic unfolding as it’s framed by A Doll’s House). Dual-cast as Clare (also significant to the family saga), Fishwick shines and is pitch-perfect in a crucial scene that offers layers upon layers both in dialogue and emotion. So much relies on our being sympathetic and a little infuriated with Daisy in the first scene, it is a tough task for any actor. There was just one moment early on, perhaps due to a dash of press night nerves, where she shot to inconsolable a little too rapidly and mechanically that felt at odds with the rest of the play and her subsequently nuanced and note-perfect performance. But that blip is quickly forgotten as she dazzles in multiple guises again and again.

Calam Lynch (Eric) and Joshua James (Ivar at 28).
Calam Lynch (Eric) and Joshua James (Ivar at 28). Photo by Marc Brenner

Joshua James, as controlling 50’s husband Robert and 1980’s out-of-the-closet Ivar, is a master of versatility; he occupies each role he plays with a perfection of truth even when the script calls for broad drama. You might want to go to your local bookies and put a bet down that Joshua James will be receiving an Oliver or BAFTA pretty soon.

Calam Lync as Eric and Cas is also a talent to behold and a face to watch. As Eric, he’s given an incredibly nuanced role to deliver and he lands it like a Serena Williams ace. As Cas, he needs to deliver broad and vicious humour without descending to farce – he succeeds in this most challenging task with his staccato delivery precise but not showy.

Richard Cant also moves with grace from one giant role to another, carrying some of the play’s most plaintive moments whilst both scorching and soothing.

Wife is both important and fun – don’t miss it.

5 Star Rating

Review by Mary Beer

Nora slammed the door on a broken, obsolete system for us, and now a hundred years later we have this free, independent union.
1959. 1988. 2019. 2042. Four couples intersect with a production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. When it comes to identity, gender and unrequited love, how do societal expectations and pressures change over time?
Samuel Adamson maps a constellation of four queer stories within four generations in one family. The world première of this captivating study of sexuality across the ages is directed by Artistic Director Indhu Rubasingham.

Richard Cant (Peter/Ivar at 58/Landlord)
Karen Fishwick (Daisy/Clare)
Pamela Hardman (Character Actress /Marjorie/Embassy Assistant)
Joshua James (Robert/Finn/Ivar at 28)
Calam Lynch (Eric/Cas)
Sirine Saba (Suzannah)

Director: Indhu Rubasingham
Designer: Richard Kent
Lighting Designer: Guy Hoare
Sound Designer: Alexander Caplen
Composer: David Shrubsole

Movement Director: Diane Alison-Mitchell; Casting Director: Sarah Bird

By Samuel Adamson
30 May – 6 July 2019


  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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