Friday, 2 March 2012

The Lady from the Sea - Rose Theatre, Kingston

Joely Richardson as Ellida Wangel

Strikingly similar. Joely's mother Vanessa Redgrave

The Lady from the Sea, by Henrik Ibsen
At the Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames until March 17

JOELY Richardson carries the torch of the celebrated Redgrave dynasty into town this week and lights up the stage with a truly luminescent performance.
She had set herself a brave task. Her mother Vanessa triumphed in the role of Ellida Wangel in one of the finest performances of her career in 1979. Her late sister Natasha made it her own with a simmering, erotic interpretation 24 years later.
But Joely Richardson brings an unashamed suburban reality to the role which fits neatly with Ibsen’s ever present desire to reveal the hidden anxieties behind our ordered, net-curtained lives.
Betrothed to a sailor who kills his captain, her brooding former lover returns years later to claim her, only to find her married to the respectable Dr Wangel.
The plot centres on her dilemma – to stay in her pedestrian marriage or to leave for the panther like charms of her past amour.
The trick of playing Ellida is to raise this plot from soap opera or ‘penny dreadful’ to compelling drama.
It is the same problem facing actresses playing Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House when she leaves Torvald.
Joely Richardson pulls it off with perfection by allowing us to see at once her fragility and then her silent, inner turmoil which threatens to consume her and destroy the lives of those around her.
The Redgraves are good at ‘inner turmoil’. Her grandfather Sir Michael, a man possessed with many personal demons, carried his turmoil on his brow.
Joely Richardson has inherited this unique Redgrave characteristic and uses it to lead us to the heart of her despair.
And it is the ordinariness of her suburban portrayal that makes her dilemma so extraordinary and of the modern age.
As one of the fathers of Modernism in the theatre, it is every director’s challenge to make Ibsen relevant to today. Stephen Unwin has done this, not with unnecessary dramatic flourish, more of a twitch of the curtains.
Malcolm Storry, as the dependable, grounded Dr Wangel, keeps the drama focused on his wife’s turmoil by generously providing a calm counterpoint to her brittle, fading love for him.
Special mention should be made of her two step-daughters Hilde and Bolette, played by Alexandra Moen and Madeleine Worrall for continuing to shine even alongside their lustrous leading lady. Miss Worrall especially carries about her a rare brand of compelling, homely, scene-stealing charm which is reminiscent of the late, great Rosamund John.
And Sam Crane, as the consumptive, self-centred, Hans, gives us an expert performance sprinkled with vanity, pomposity and self-pity.
Simon Higlett’s intriguing set is a wave like undulation of bleached boards, redolent of the sea, piers and promenades, fitting perfectly with Ibsen’s imagery of his stricken mermaid in a sea of troubles as ships – and life – steam obliviously by.
Tickets are £8-£38.50. 
To book tickets: 

Joely's sister Natasha in The Lady from the Sea at the Almeida in 2003. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Joely's grandfather Sir Michael Redgrave as the deranged ventriloquist  in Dead of Night (1945)

Neville Thurlbeck is the official theatre critic for the Surrey Comet, his local newspaper and his review along with the newspaper's arts coverage, can be seen  here:

The Surrey Comet comes out every Friday, price 55p from all good newsagents from Richmond in the north, as far west as Sunbury, east to Epsom and south to the M25.


  1. Anonymous2 March 2012 17:03

    Great review, Nev. Good to have you back.

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