Pros: The spooky set adds intensity to an atmospheric and thought-provoking show.
Cons: The acting is hit and miss, making a difficult play even less accessible.
The Space is a lovely venue near Mudchute on The Isle of Dogs. Once a church, now a performance space, it retains an air of calm and dignity. With its high ceiling and dimly-lit gallery, there is a peaceful sense of faded grandeur and a lingering solemnity. The same building holds a cosy little pub named Hubbub, with book-crammed walls and a friendly atmosphere, where you can buy drinks before the show and take a seat during the interval. It is a very welcoming place on a grey and drizzling May evening!
Production company Les Foules makes the most of this great venue in their production of When We Dead Awaken. They put the stark emptiness and shadowy space of the unused church to good use, creating a striking and eerie set, which really sets the tone for an atmospheric and intense production. As the play opens, shifting opaque sheets hang from the ceiling or are draped across the actors like shrouds. The rest of the space is crowded with looming shadows and as the actors emerge one by one, we see that their faces have been painted white so that they look deathly pale.
When We Dead Awaken is a play about death. And about how life is a kind of death. About how hard it can sometimes be to tell the living from the dead. With the shroud-like sheets constantly shifting and rustling behind the action and a subtle but constant background of accomplished audio adding to the eeriness, this production really runs with the central, morbid motif. This serves to create an arresting, unsettling and thought-provoking show. When We Dead Awaken is known to be a stark and difficult play, and this production does not go out of its way to make it more accessible. I left with a lot of unanswered questions – but a lot to think about and dwell on too.
The standard of the acting fluctuates from scene to scene. Especially at the start of the show, sections struck me as over-acted and lacking in subtlety. However, as the play progresses the drama heightens, the characters begin to lose control and the over-blown, urgent style becomes more appropriate. Nadège Adlam as Irene stood out for me and made the show her own. Her Irene is wild and half-crazed yet somehow dignified; as passionate and mystifying as the script itself. Meanwhile, the motives of other characters were sometimes harder to comprehend. Husband and wife Maia and Rubek, for example, are central to the plot but they lack a certain chemistry. We watch as their relationship disintegrates during the play, but I found it hard to either believe in or sympathise with this change when there seemed little evidence of any affection or affinity between them to begin with. The most compelling scenes were those between Rubek, an artist who has lost his passion and inspiration, and Irene, his one-time muse. The two swing between fierce aggression and passionate longing for each other. Their relationship gives this production its energy and tone; urgent, violent, unsettling and intense – sometimes hard to comprehend but ultimately very compelling to watch.
Author: Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Les Foules
Director: Nathalie Adlam
Producer: Les Foules
Booking Until: 30 May 2015
Box Office: 020 7515 7799
Booking Link: https://space.org.uk/event-booking/?event=whenwedeadawaken