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.