Lovers of Henrik Ibsen’s work will have lots to think about in the National Theatre of Norway’s intense production of Little Eyolf, supported by the Norwegian Ibsen Company and performed by a stellar cast in Norwegian with English surtitles.
First written in 1894, there are embers that still smoulder in this play, as if Ibsen himself is sat by a fire, poking his script with a stick, still revisiting the multifarious themes he introduces in this complex marital drama. His ghost seems to walk alongside the six-characters in Little Eyolf, observing each with a critical eye, not trusting what they have to say about themselves, their ambitions or their desires, not because they are liars, but because their true intentions are unknown to themselves.
The husband, Alfred Allmers (Kåre Conradi) has been writing a book entitled The Responsibility of Man, yet he lacks the moral fibre to be a responsible father to his son, Eyolf (Sebastian Sørlie Lamb), who is paralysed in one leg as a result of a fall he suffered in infancy. The accident occurred while his parents left him unattended, choosing carnal pleasures over the safety of their infant son. The wife, Rita Allmers (Pia Tjelta), resents Eyolf and cannot bear to share Alfred’s love with their frail, unwanted child. After a period of solitude on a mountainside, Alfred professes a wish to devote his life to caring for Eyolf but his words lack conviction, as does his wife’s pathological need to possess all of Alfred’s love. There is an unconscious motivation that
haunts this couple, which is neither the supposed guilt they share over Eyolf’s accident, nor the rot that underpins their marriage, their reprisals and their self-respect.
What may hint at the unconscious desires of each parent are the characters who enter and exit from their lives. There is an unwelcome visit from The Rat Wife (Andrine Sæther) who acts as a harbinger of death. As this odious woman recounts the trickery she uses in leading the town’s rodents to drown at sea, we sense that Eyolf, too, will meet the same fate as an unwanted pest in his own household. In essence, it wasn’t so much his parents’ desire to have sex that resulted in his fall as an infant, but their desire to create a situation in which he might perish.
Alfred’s half-sister, Asta Allmers (Ine Jansen), is used as a pawn between Rita and Alfred’s malevolent intentions, a character they can manipulate to meet their own needs and demands. One senses that there is malicious intent here to render Asta emotionally immobile – a mirror image of Eyolf’s physical paralysis – so that she is a woman without a future beyond the miserable confines of the Allmers’ household. Luckily, she senses this and agrees to go off with a suitor, Borgheim (John Emil Jørgensrud), a road builder who represents an exit from the claustrophobic world to which Rita and Alfred have condemned themselves.
At the play’s end, Rita speaks of redemption. She will look after the town’s neglected children, a proclamation that rang hollow. If we were to meet the Allmers in a few years time, we would find them still embroiled in unreasonable demands, confusion and recriminations. What makes them so intriguing and so modern, however, is the emotional blindfolds they wear to mask their true intentions.
Little Eyolf may well be Ibsen’s legacy, one that was meant as a seminal work to be revisited and reinterpreted. Unlike his many plays which pitch the human circumstance within a wider social context, Little Eyolf digs deep to uncover the enigma of who we are, and the pathetic means to which we will go to embrace a shallow existence.
Review by Loretta Monaco
Alfred Allmers has abandoned his life’s literary work for a new vocation: to devote himself to caring for his son. But while his relationship with his wife Rita disintegrates, one seismic event will change the course of his life forever.
Little Eyolf is a haunting portrait of a marriage in crisis and the agony of acts and words that can never be undone.
Presented by the National Theatre of Norway in what is their first UK appearance in 18 years, this is a stunning and probing production of one of Ibsen’s great masterpieces – showing that his characters speak just as strongly to us today.
Kåre Conradi – Alfred Allmers
Pia Tjelta – Rita Allmers
Ine Jansen – Asta Allmers
John Emil Jørgensrud – Borgheim
Andrine Sæther – The Rat Wife
Sebastian Sørlie Lamb – Eyolf
Sofia Jupither – Director
Erlend Birkeland – Set Designer
Ellen Dæhli Ystehede – Costume Designer
Magnus Mikaelsen – Costume Designer
Ruth Haraldsdottir Norvik – Costume Designer
Mari Vatne Kjeldstadli – Costume Designer
Performed in Norwegian with English surtitles
Print Room at the Coronet,
103 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3LB
Booking to 21st April 2018