John Gabriel Borkman at the Bridge Theatre

This is Ibsen’s second to last play, written in 1896, but it felt as though it was a commentary on life, and public life, today. A pared back set and simple lighting allowed the words and the acting to do all the work. The writing is lovely, the characters are knowing, able to see others’ faults while managing to avoid seeing their own. It is quite a bleak play, in a bleak winter setting, but remarkable that they are all capable of finding hope in hopeless situations.

In the hands of a less talented director and actors, this could have been a tough watch, but Lia Williams, Simon Russell Beale and Claire Higgins make us care about the selfish, delusional, imperfect people in this play, and they can make us understand why they have made the poor life choices that they made.

It is a play about sibling rivalry, about self-delusion, and about how we use hindsight to justify past decisions. It is also about how difficult it is to learn from the mistakes of others – you can see the next generation heading exactly the same way as their parents. Yet, as throughout the play, there is the faintest sliver of hope at the end.

Don’t go if you are hoping for a light evening’s entertainment, although to be fair, there are many funny lines and light moments. Do go if you want an insight into our complex personalities and into the human condition. I am afraid that I have made this show sound difficult, but I left the theatre uplifted because, in every situation there is hope, and it is human nature to seek out that hope and grasp it. I felt that this play captured the beauty of a bright chink of light shining through the drawn curtains of a darkened room. Sorry about the hyperbole, but it is a great play and, I did really enjoy this production.


8 thoughts on “John Gabriel Borkman at the Bridge Theatre

  1. I prefer theatre which emphasizes the language. The playwright’s words tell the story, develop the characters, and move (or don’t move if this is the point) the plot along. To me this is a more reflective process which encourages us in the audience to think about the play for days hence. However, competing with movies and social media, many theatres spend more time developing special effects to dazzle us with stage-bling rather than analyzing the dialogue. – Oscar

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      • If you travel to the States, come to a small town of Staunton, Virginia to the Blackfriar Theatre (yes, they reconstructed Shakespeare’s indoor theatre there) where the American Shakespeare Center produced plays (around 10 to 12 per year) using Shakespearean conditions of universal lighting and minimal sets/props. They are masters at bringing out the language of the plays.

        Happy travels – Oscar

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      • That does sound interesting! I have added it to my list of travel plans. We are at the early stages of planning a drive down the east coast from Washington to Jacksonville, perhaps taking 5 or 6 weeks, in autumn 2023 and that looks like it will fit right in! Thank you.


      • Is that Washington, D.C.? If so, Staunton, VA about 3 1/2 hours away heading south. Take highway 66 west about 2 hours out of downtown D.C. (actually we are only another 45 minutes into the mountains from there, if you want to see the countryside), then head south on highway 81 about 1 1/2 hours to Staunton. There are several very nice hotels and bed & breakfast lodging places in Staunton. Also, if your destination is south (there are numerous Jacksonvilles in southern states, though Jacksonville, Florida is the most popular) highway 81 out of D.C. is a much more scenic drive than highway 95, which is about the 3rd level of Dante’s hell (flat, long & congested at numerous places) – Oscar

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