The nature of freedom and equality for women within marriage was an important social and political point for Henrik Ibsen in the 19th century. While such discussions now are within the confines of broadsheet newspapers’ lifestyle sections, they are at least still had, making a revival of Ibsen’s folk tale intriguing and relevant.
In The Lady From The Sea, Ellida Wangel is spiritually connected to the ocean, thanks to a childhood as a lighthouse keeper’s daughter and a charged romance with a gruff sailor. But’s she’s also trapped in a soulless marriage to a provincial doctor. The unwilling stepmother to his two children, she’s forced to make a choice when the man from her past surprisingly returns.
This new version by David Eldridge certainly sparkles into life when Ellida’s mysterious lover suddenly appears on an otherwise strangely muted set. It’s notoriously difficult to play the dead-eyed loneliness of the chronically depressed, but there’s something about Neve McIntosh’s Ellida - she’s driven to the edge of madness but stiff, cold and often emotionless - which doesn’t quite convince.
Indeed, the production seems to heave a huge sigh of relief when she’s not on stage. Samuel Collings has great fun with Lyngstrand, a shambling, would-be artist hanging around Wangel’s daughters. Jonathan Keeble portrays Arnholm - a slightly creepy tutor - as a loveably awkward buffoon, and even Dr Wangel, whose wife is essentially toying with his future in front of his very eyes, is given an amiable, down to earth charm.
Still, such levity is much needed. The Lady From The Sea isn’t Ibsen’s best work - Ellida’s quasi “it’s not you, it’s me” refrain becomes repetitive and tiresome - but director Sarah Frankcom does just enough to tease out the social and political themes Ibsen was so fond of.