(Michael Billington's review appeared in The Guardian May 23.)
The Ibsen boom continues. And it is a measure of our theatre's confidence in dealing with the old Norwegian ironist that even a dark, difficult late play like this can be bathed, both in Anthony Page's production and Mike Poulton's new translation, in such physical and psychological light.
More than most of Ibsen's plays, this one is about the weight of the past. Rosmer, a former pastor, is oppressed by a whole series of factors: his conservative ancestry, guilt over his wife's suicide and loss of religious faith. But, aided by his companion, Rebecca West, he believes he can set out on a new path of missionary idealism. This, however, turns out to be a fond dream as he alienates his allies, becomes a subject of scandal, and as Rebecca turns out to be haunted by incestuous demons.
That much is familiar. But this production confirms a point made by Toril Moi in a brilliant book on Ibsen: Rosmer and Rebecca are "heartbroken romantics, not moralising idealists, who cannot bear the world that bourgeois democracy has produced". And Page's production heightens this by laying emphasis on the figures who surround this death-haunted pair. On the right, we have Malcolm Sinclair's Doctor Kroll, Rosmer's brother-in-law, an academic reactionary who muses that "these days the only boys who support our side are the dunces and the dullards". On the left, we have the newspaper editor Mortensgaard, who kowtows to readers with scandals and slogans. For once, you see that Rosmer and Rebecca are driven to suicide, not just by guilt but by despair at the death of civilisation . . .