Being a proud Scandinavian I can safely say I don’t always have a great relationship with Ibsen. Because I met him very early on in my school days, he’s always felt more like an obligation than a pleasure; even when my feelings towards him started to grow into something that could look like love for his strong female characters, the way he’s often staged calls for my rejection more frequently than adoration. I’m so pleased Little Eyolf at the Almeida has ignited the spark again.

Little Eyolf is one of Ibsen’s short plays and is a powerful, yet strangely sweet little piece of writing. We meet the Allmers when their relationship is falling apart – Rita finds herself desperate to close the gap between them and regenerate the love that once was there, whereas Alfred decides to devote his entire existence to their crippled son, Eyolf. Throw a near-incestuous brother-sister relationship into the mix and a family disaster, and we’ve got the spice that tears at the gut.

It’s needless to say that Rita is another fantastic female figure of Ibsen’s, full of passion, jealousy, desperation and flavour. Her Medea-like reasoning is a terrifying insight to the heart and mind of a woman utterly rejected, and Lydia Leonard plays her with such fire and heartache she’s almost turned inside out. It’s a power performance that will leave you clutching at your seat. She is well matched by her intellectual though emotionally immature husband (Jolyon Coy) and the attempt at piecing together the fragments of their relationship resonates deep within us. The rest of the cast equally impress, with the torn Asta (Eve Ponsonby) being the glue stick trying to keep everyone together, and the brilliant young Eyolf (Tom Hibberd) whose sorrowful air about him makes him chilling to watch.

This play is driven by its acting talent, no doubt. However Tim Hatley’s design is powerful too in its simplicity: the cream wooden planks of the house create a very Scandinavian feel, framing the silhouette of the Norwegian mountains and dangerous fjord. Inspired by Scandinavian paintings of the time it provides the right flavour to the play, with Jon Driscoll’s thrilling projection and modern edge smoothly complementing the period costumes and set.

Ibsen’s plays are not just about real characters in real situations with their lives peeled back to the core. They’re also about atmosphere – cold and direct, the feeling of being stuck in whatever cage you are put in, in whatever seemingly beautiful but harsh environment.

Richard Eyre’s direction is slick and subtle, knowing what to draw out of the actors and what to extract from the design. It’s safe to say I’ve got hope for my relationship with Ibsen after this.

Little Eyolf is playing at the Almeida Theatre until 9 January 2016. For more information and tickets, see the Almeida Theatre website. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.