25 October 2010

Dramatic pause

A week ago, I saw The Lady From The Sea at the Royal Exchange. I'm always harping on about it, I know, but I love the Royal Exchange. For the first time in a long time, I got to sit in the posh seats, because I managed to blag myself onto the press guest list by saying I would write about the play here on W&F. It's taken me a while (well, a week), so big sorries for the delay, nice Rex people; I've been a bit caught up with Manchester Literature Festival. I did big it up on that Twitter, however, so all is not lost. Plus it's on until 6 November, so if you read this now, you still have time to swing by. And I'd definitely recommend it. As well as the usual high standard of costumes, props and sets I've become accustomed to at the Royal Exchange, I really enjoyed the piece.

The play, from 1888 (the painting of the same name, above, is by Edvard Munch from 1896), is by the Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, and even though I'd never heard of it (I read a ton of his stuff as part of a subsidiary drama course at university: Hedda Gabler, A Doll's House, Ghosts...), it has his trademark Naturalism, Realism and Modernism in spades. Particularly nature, and especially the sea and water, with the noise of waves in the background at points and a dappled image projected onto the floor to represent a pond. "Sea people are a law unto themselves. It's like they belong to the sea", is one line about Ellida (Neve McIntosh), the nutty woman at the centre of the story who bathes every day in the fjord (this water is described as "brackish"; such an evocative adjective). But all the characters are sea people, not just the lighthouse keeper's daughter Ellida: some have been brought to the town via the coastal steamers (interestingly, the ships are referred to in the masculine, not like our own convention of personifying boats as female); some will leave the town via the same route. As the blurb on the website itself says: "the undercurrents threaten to drag a whole family beneath the surface". Clever.

Chatting to a fellow reviewer a day later, it became clear he wasn't keen on the work because he couldn't empathise with any of the characters, but I think that's part of the point. Each and every person (even the fleeting German tourists) is dislikeable for one reason or another, but that makes the plot more complex than it appears at face value and drives the narrative and drama forward. I'm not sure if it's because of this that I was quite uncomfortable watching Ellida's husband Dr Wangel or whether it's because I remember seeing the actor Reece Dinsdale in quite a nasty episode of Silent Witness, but his performance was perhaps the only bit I had trouble with. And even that isn't worth mentioning, so maybe I'll just take it back.

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