Pros: Good to see an early Ibsen being staged.
Cons: Early Ibsen sags in the middle.
Ottisdotter Productions bring their focus to lesser known and obscure plays that emphasise the role of women in society. Having last been presented at London’s Adelphi Theatre in 1911, Henrik Ibsen’s Olaf belongs amongst the Norwegian master’s lesser known works, falling outside the 12-play ‘Ibsen Cycle.’ The version presented at Barons Court Theatre is an adaptation by ottisdotter of Anders Orbeck’s translation of Ibsen’s Olaf Liljekrans; the most challenging sentence I’ve ever had to spellcheck.
Ingeborg (Sarah Madden), daughter of Arne Of Guldvik (Che Watson), is set to marry Olaf (Teddy Robson), son of Lady Kirsten (Rebekka Magnúsdóttir). But young Olaf is in love with airy fairy Alfhild (Grace Monroe), whilst Ingeborg loves her father’s servant, Hemming (Joe Lewis). So far, so Midsummer Night’s Dream. Things don’t really go to anyone’s plan, and everything looks like it’s going to end in tears, right up until the young couples go smiling off into their various sunsets. (Is that a spoiler? Can you have a spoiler on a 152 year old play from the most performed playwright after Shakespeare?)
While I was excited to see a play that has not been staged for over a century, I attended aware that there is usually a reason for these omissions. I left the theatre having had a perfectly pleasant evening, but understanding why Olaf is rarely seen.
There was not a weak performance among the ensemble, they were all downright watchable and perfectly cast in their respective roles. The cream, beige and brown palette of the costumes made the little green bushes on the floor stand out brightly against the whitewashed stone arches of the walls of Barons Court Theatre, an attractive though slightly smelly space. The minimalism of the set suited the era (the play was written in 1856) and the settings (mountains; Lady Kristen’s house; valley), and just a few selected props were used to conduct a little stage business: a goblet to polish or drink from; a handful of trinkets to caress.
Olaf clocks in at two and a half hours, with a distractingly long first half, and the play feels like an early work by a talented playwright working with a very simple story. There is nothing wrong with the production, but in my opinion, the whole is too long. There is nothing unusual enough about the story or the characters to sufficiently reward sitting through the young people Woe-Is-Me-ing over their love troubles. Go for the performances; ottisdotter have put together a great production, and the translation is full of lovely, musical language to enjoy. This is a talented cast and a watchable production.
Director: Mark Ewbank
Author: Henrik Ibsen
Translated by: Anders Orbeck
Booking link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/28a-comeragh-road/barons-court-theatre/olaf-by-henrik-ibsen/2018-06-23/19:30
Booking Until: 30 June 2018