Though some may call me a philistine, I feel compelled to say that this play was inappropriate for the occasion, and not because it is set at Christmas time; Brasenose Arts’ Festival, a May evening (granted the elements were in opposition, for which I thoroughly laud the actors) and an outside performance, for me, do not conjure a suitable setting for an Ibsen. An intimate theatre with proscenium arches, red velvet stalls and wall lamps, in my opinion, are the features needed to recreate the stifling, cooped-up atmosphere presented in his plays. Whether it was an attempt at self-aggrandisement or an unawareness of what the audience wants (an absolute must when choosing a play), I don’t think it was a wise choice and further frustration was met with a lengthy third act that was nearly as long as the first two.
But, that is not to say that I did not enjoy it. On the contrary, I was immediately struck by the set which offered a realistic impression of a middle-class household; little details such as a pocket-watch, a hand-mirror and other such items you might come across in Priestley’s ‘An English Journey’ coloured the space for both actors and audience alike. (I wonder how many pedants are going to attack that sentence). Though I normally would have omitted a reference to disasters on set considering them trivial, the falling of the Christmas tree was handled superbly and very convincingly, showing a command of the stage and theatrical competence not often seen in student theatre.
Nora (Heliotis) was strong from the outset, managing her psychological changes throughout marvellously; the lost, cold stare when the anagnorisis has just hit, thoroughly haunting, was in brilliant juxtaposition to the ‘childish’ incompetence, made apparent by her patronising husband. Whatever she was feeling, ‘wurry’ or joy, it was accentuated masterly and the tense dynamic with her husband was evident from the beginning. I must admit, however, that I am on the fence about Torvald (Huhne); I cannot decide whether it was a superb portrayal of a mindless, retrograde traditionalist, or indeed actually a shaky, inconsistent one, drifting in and out of the action. I got the impression of a psychopath, unable to see why he is a ‘bad’ man himself, but the occasional smile at moments clearly inappropriate to smiling (or were they, I ask myself, for they kind of worked) and emotions incongruous to the words he was saying left me baffled.
I liked Krogstad (Cvetkovic); his costume, the embodiment of his so-called sinister mind, was almost terrifying – you got the sense that he was the bad guy and his entrances always cast a shadow on the mood. The problem with his portrayal is an overriding one of the play; there was a general flatness to the characters, which limited the possibilities to explore the human condition. There were plenty of emotional ups and downs, yet failure to capitalise on them resulted in an almost monotone performance from all. Linde (Tandy) could have been stronger and more engaging with the events around her; her eyes were not concentrating and engaging, however she had stage presence and command. Whether it was due to the cold or nerves, Rank’s (Gillow) movements were rigid, staccato and un-fluid, and often I got the impression he did not know how to stand on stage. But he had theatrical discipline and measured timings which will only blossom with time. Finally, the maid (Alpcan), who definitely needs to look older to fit in with the other realist elements of the play, was nonetheless a thorough picture.
On the whole, despite directorial discontinuities (the entrance to the stage seemed to move as time went on) and the inherent difficulty of lighting in a marquee, I enjoyed the performance (that of the actors), though I would want to see more depth in their portrayals.
THREE AND A HALF STARS