The perception of Henrik Ibsen’s work in the UK is often told through the prism of a period piece, of people from 100 years ago beset by century-old issues. And the productions are always so bleak.
Ibsen’s plays have become classics, which I am sure he never intended them to be. In his own time, Ibsen was very critical and judgemental of his fellow Norwegians about contemporary issues.
He screamed out his frustration of our narrow-minded, conservative behaviour, sexism, lack of openness and isolationism. He created homes impossible to grow up in: life is dangerous for children in Ibsen plays. And very often, from the very first scene, it is already way too late for the characters to improve their lives.
But Ibsen makes it bearable for his audience. The plays have fascinating and complex plots and are packed with humour. I am afraid translations sometimes miss that vital, harsh humour, and so both actors and the audience are left with the depression of the north.
Ibsen’s career can be divided into different periods. He started out strongly influenced by Shakespeare, and many of his early works were set in the Viking period. But in plays like The Warriors of Helgeland you can see his understanding of the human mind emerging.
Those early works are rarely staged in Britain. Instead, plays from Ibsen’s last 20 years are performed regularly on your stages. These come from his ‘contemporary’ period and include Ghosts, A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder and The Lady from the Sea.
We are staging The Lady from the Sea here with actors from the UK and the National Theatre of Norway, speaking both languages on stage. We are hoping to bring the Ibsen of Norway to an audience that will largely have a very different view of the playwright.
Working with that story as a Norwegian, it still feels like a contemporary play. The topics are of today – and hopefully, it will become clear quite how funny Ibsen was.
Marit Moum Aune is director of The Lady From The Sea at the Print Room at the Coronet until 9 March. www.the-print-room.org