They say that the essence of drama is conflict, and conflict there is a plenty in Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. The claustrophobia of the Burton Taylor Studio is made to feel even more close by the cast of four (one of whom only features very briefly) leaving one no chance to avert one’s eyes from the painfully strained relationships that are portrayed on stage.
In Rosmersholm, Ibsen depicts Victorian society (or its Norwegian equivalent) questioning its seemingly rock-solid foundations to the point of collapse. The free-thinking John Rosmer (Christian Amos) – a pastor who has renounced his Christian faith – struggles with his conscience and the weight of his illustrious ancestors, whose photographs loom ominously over the stage, to become a figurehead for radicalism. His friend and brother-in-law, Dr Kroll (Iarla Manny) attempts to prevent Rosmer from abandoning the beliefs with which he was raised and that his ancestors embodied. At Rosmer’s side is Rebecca West (Clio Takas) – the emancipated woman with whom he lives; despite her emancipated status, Rebecca still seems shackled by the society in which she lives. Lurking in the background is the ghost of Rosmer’s deceased wife, who has committed suicide before the play’s opening in a supposed bout of mental illness.
Christian Amos did a good job at depicting the moral trepidation of Rosmer. He is aware of the momentous path that he has undertaken in abandoning his faith and traditional morality to become a torch-bearer for the progressives. Whilst he did at times tend towards a Nick Cleggish over-earnestness, this suited the personality of his character well. Harry Lukakis put in a strong cameo as the free-thinking newspaper editor who attempts to shape Rosmer’s beliefs to the benefit of his movement. Clio Takas was skilled in portraying the mixture of flippancy, fearlessness and sincerity of Rebecca. She, like Rosmer, struggles to come to terms with the enormous transformation that will be brought on by her subscription to a progressive belief-system.
Of particular note, however, was Larla Manny as Dr Kroll. Kroll’s lines berating his old friend for abandoning what he had once stood for were, in Manny’s mouth, all dripping in sarcasm. One could, in Manny’s performance, really see a friendship that has been fractured by irreconcilable differences of opinion.
In terms of production, the director, Exir Kamadabadi, made good use of the Burton Taylor space. His set was sparse, but not flat – carefully composed, interesting the viewer but not detracting from Ibsen’s drama. Of slight annoyance, however, was the presence of a broken telephone as an intercom system. The telephone – without handle – was pointless; allusions to a studio apartment in the set were so slight as to be meaningless; the play would not have suffered from the loss of this pointless distraction.
All in all, Rosmersholm was a compelling piece of theatre. The darkness of the relationships within the play make it a difficult feat to accomplish, nonetheless the cast acquitted themselves admirably.