Adapted by Mark Ewbank, Artistic Director of Ottisdotter Productions at the Barons Court Theatre, this is the first time in over 100 years that one of Henrik Ibsens’s earliest plays, Olaf Liljekran, has been shown on stage.
Set during the summer in the remote mountains of Norway, the groom disappears on the eve of his wedding, sending both households into manic disarray. It has been said that ‘Olaf as been bewitched in the mountains.’
Lady Kirsten (Rebekka Magnusdottir), Olaf’s mother, acts as a matriarchal figure who demands to be seen and heard. Over time her reserved demeanour begins to change when relationships are threatened and her son’s future begins to fall out of her control. Olaf Lijekrans, played by Teddy Robson, brings a charged intensity to his character. Possessed, troubled he darts in and out of the shadows; he is lost in the valley. Rose petals begin to fall from his hand as his eyes madly search the sky. His unpredictability becomes unnerving, as we never quite know when he might lash out at those around him. His timing here is brilliant. When Olaf meets a young woman from the mountains, Alfhild (Grace Monroe), he begins to feel a sense of peace and happiness. However do we have the freedom to make our own decisions? Ibsen leads us through a dangerous, twisted game where ‘duty’ becomes more powerful than intuition.
What holds this production together is Ibsen’s poetic language that is ripe with intense desire and passion; however at times I was struggling to believe what the characters were saying. Moments of intimacy became increasingly over-stylised and rather stilted. As an audience member, it is difficult to feel convinced when suppressed love suddenly turned into an agonising monologue of dictation rather than sensitive emotion.
I personally found the first half too long and further tightening of scenes would have created a far punchier interpretation of the production. However, moving into the second half, the pace did begin to speed up with atmospheric scenes where fables were recited and riddles were sung under the candlelight. Che Watson who plays the bride’s father, Arne Of Guldvik, appears on the surface as an avuncular, argumentative figure but finds a way to bring to light a sense of fragility to his character. There is a tender scene towards the end of the piece, where he speaks out to the audience; his voice croaky, proclaiming his irrevocable love for his daughter.
However as I leave the theatre, I am sadly longing for Ibsen’s later writings that are filled with raw passages that submerse you in a visceral journey of the human condition.
Olaf is playing Barons Court Theatre until 30 June
Photo: Ottisdotter Productions