The Lady from the Sea – 5 Stars

I begin with a caveat. I don’t much like Ibsen. To be honest, I don’t much like a lot of ‘classic’ old (male) writers. I find Chekhov very stiff, Bernard Shaw formulaic, and I can’t stand Arthur Miller. Sorry-not-sorry. In light of this, the Norwegian Ibsen Company’s production of The Lady from the Sea (showing now at the Print Room at the Coronet, until 9th of March) was a pleasant surprise. Which is to say that it was really good.

The Lady from the Sea, Print Room (Source: Coronet | Print Room)

Marit Moumane’s company is part Norwegian, part English, and the dialogue is delivered in an amalgam of both languages. This is a canny decision as it plays into the themes of ‘difference’ and separation which are so tightly wrapped into Ibsen’s text. The central narrative focusses on the relationship between Wangel, a part-retired doctor played by Adrian Rawlins, and his new wife Ellida (Pia Tjelta). There is a fairy tale tone to Ellida’s otherness from her new family: she can’t connect with her step-children and her marriage to Wangel is fraught, as she longs to return to the north and her home. Mari Vatne Kjeldstadli’s script has interpreted Ibsen’s text as a modern feminist meditation on agency and vulnerability, as each female character is somehow under the power of a man, be that emotionally, physically or economically.

This disconnect between agency and isolation is reflected well in Erlend Birkeland’s set design: the ground is entirely covered with sand, but the back wall shows a huge backdrop of mountains and fjords. There is a suggestion of Soviet realist propaganda, but also of being imprisoned. The huge mountainous landscape looms above the acto