Despite the hallmarks of a brooding, intelligent production – moody lighting, atmospheric music, hushed audience expectation – this is an anticlimactic experience. The most curious aspect is why playwright Samuel Adamson should have chosen to update Ibsen’s Little Eyolf and set it in fifties England. The programme strives to give readers a condensed history of the period, from the booming suburban affluence to the rapid technological advances and the posturing youth culture, but this merely raises the question of why transpose the play to a period that necessitates such explanation. Surely, if there is a strong resonance, it will make itself felt? In the event, the answer is no. The piece, in its exploration of passion in marriage and the loss of a child, is timeless. However, the awkward period markers simply serve to distract attention from the more potent, personal depiction of a couple’s psychological unravelling. As a result, the subject matter feels further removed, the time period artificially stamped on top.
A leaden first half reflects these problems. The slightly painful start, with brittle, emotionless performances, may represent the characters’ false, unhappy lives, but it is tiresome to watch. Angus Wright makes a lugubrious Alfred Affleck, his ponderous, portentous delivery at odds with the vision of the brilliant writer, who inspires such overwhelming passion in his frustrated, intelligent wife. The play dawdles along as dully as the lives they seem to live – Alfred’s talk of the Highlands is tediously impotent.
Thankfully, the drama heightens as nerves come unstrung, due mainly to Claire Skinner as Rita Affleck, who finally salvages the piece with a blistering performance, first directing a burst of violent passion at her husband, later evoking a raw, simmering grief following the loss of her son.
Speaking of children, the two boys in the play, Rene Gray and Wesley Nelson, deserve praise for their focused performances. Ultimately, however, and much like the Afflecks themselves, the redeeming passions of the production emerge too late to rescue it.