Little Eyolf

Theatre, Drama
2 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

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This old school Ibsen revival feels out of place at the edgy Almeida

Over the last three years, Islington’s Almeida has been transformed from a temple of high-class chintz into London’s most exciting and progressive theatre. So what is Rupert Goold, the architect of the change, doing programming a trad Ibsen revival of exactly the sort that the previous regime specialised in?

Well, there could be lots of reasons: it’s his bloody theatre; ‘Little Eyolf’ neatly mirrors some of the themes of ‘Medea’, the previous play in the season; he owes director Richard Eyre a solid after the veteran’s terse, harrowing take on Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’ was left to Goold as an instant West End transfer at the start of his tenure.

And you know, it’s absolutely, 100 percent fine. Lydia Leonard is great as Rita: the sensual, frustrated wife to Jolyon Coy’s self-absorbed Alfred. Unfulfilled in a world that offers little to women, she loves her husband passionately – almost desperately – but finds the motherhood expected of her a chore. This is especially so as their young son Eyolf is disabled – injured as a baby while his parents were distracted in the Biblical sense.

But it’s all a bit flat. Next to the aggressively contemporary fury of Rachel Cusk’s ‘Medea’ – also a portrait of a marriage on the rocks – ‘Little Eyolf’ feels mannered and stiff, delivered as a straight-up period piece. Eyre struck gold with ‘Ghosts’, but that had a more modern sensibility, with Lesley Manville’s staggering performance as its focal point.

When tragedy strikes in ‘Little Eyolf’, people respond in a peculiarly narcissistic, contemplative way that doesn’t at all ring true in 2015. (Neither, by the by, does the fact that everyone is madly in love with Coy’s wet blanket Alfred). If anything, Eyre’s terse 80-minute edit only exacerbates this by paring the characters down so much.
This would be a strong piece of programming in many theatres, but at the Almeida it feels like a bizarrely retrograde step. If anything, putting on something so un-Gooldian is one of Goold’s ballsier moves, but I can’t help but feel it’s his first gamble to not come off.


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