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Review of The Lady from the Sea at the Donmar Warehouse

Helena Wilson (Bolette) in The Lady from the Sea at the Donmar Warehouse directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah designed by Tom Scutt. Photo by Manuel Harlan
Helena Wilson (Bolette) in The Lady from the Sea at the Donmar Warehouse directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah designed by Tom Scutt. Photo by Manuel Harlan

In this punchy new version by Elinor Cook we are transported from the Norwegian Fjords in the 1880s to a Caribbean island in the 1950s. It’s a curious blend and one that works well with this play. This is a beautiful reworking of the play. The set, the performances, the lightness of the writing all work to create an entertaining and thoughtful piece of theatre. Ibsen isn’t usually this funny, or this engaging.

The plot at times stretches credibility but there’s something enjoyable in that, and the audience seems more than happy to go along for the ride. It’s satisfyingly hard to capture this version. Is this a story about a failing marriage, about grief and loss and first love or is this fairy-tale about a woman finding her feet on land? Is it a comedy? A tragedy? For me, it was an engaging combination of both – and it has plenty to say about families, marriage, love and the role of women.

The cast are all on great form. From Nikki Amuka-Bird’s gentle portrayal of Ellida, confused, haunted but with a courageous self-certainty, to Jonny Holden’s gloriously funny and un-self-aware Lyngstrand. Finbar Lynch gives us a straight-backed, sympathetic performance as the decent but potentially dull Doctor Wangel, and Tom McKay is both likeable and slightly too keen as Arnholm, the old family tutor bought back to try and help the family. Helena Wilson and Ellie Bamber are both joyfully watchable as Bolette and Hilde, and this production highlights their desire for escape and their wish to be seen. Jim Findley (Ballestred) and Jake Fairbrother (The Stranger) make lasting impressions and bring humour (Findley) and erotic menace (Fairbrother) into the mix.

Kwame Kwei-Armah’s direction means this play skips along and yet still finds time to breathe. This play could easily slip into melodrama but instead is both thoughtful and fun.

Tom Scutt’s set is stunning, and right from the opening imagery and lighting the play has a sophisticated feel that makes the audience feel assured they are in safe hands. This is a sharp, witty, tender version of Ibsen’s play with a very contemporary feel.

4 stars

Review by Roz Wyllie

Ellida, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, is trapped in her marriage and longs for the sea. When a former lover returns from years of absence, she is forced to decide between freedom and the new life she has made for herself.

Donmar Associate Kwame Kwei-Armah directs Ibsen’s moving play about duty and self-determination following the Olivier Award-nominated One Night in Miami….

Cast includes Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ellie Bamber, Jake Fairbrother, Jim Findley, Jonny Holden, Finbar Lynch, Tom McKay and Helena Wilson.

Creatives:
Written By Henrik Ibsen
In a new version by Elinor Cook
Director Kwame Kwei-Armah
Designer Tom Scutt
Lighting Designer Lee Curran
Sound Designer Emma Laxton
Composer Michael Bruce

THE LADY FROM THE SEA
By Henrik Ibsen in a new version by Elinor Cook
12 October 2017 – 2 December 2017
https://www.donmarwarehouse.com/

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