When We Dead Awaken focuses on married couple Maia (Andrea Bræin Hovig) and Rubek (Øystein Røger). The two are clearly unhappy in their marriage, as they so openly discuss during the first scene, which is performed entirely in Norwegian with the assistance of some clearly projected, easy to follow subtitles. Hearing the text in its original language is warming and even helps to bring through the characters’ inner turmoil. This is a surprisingly funny script, and the comedy beats the language barrier with ease. Rubek longs for the return of his artistic inspiration, which he says he lost when his previous model Irene (Ragnhild Margrethe Gudbrandsen) disappeared. Maia is wanting something else, something more adventurous.
Once Ulfhejm (James Browne), a brash bear hunter enters the stage, the characters flawlessly transition to speaking in English. We are so engrossed in the action by this point that this change isn’t noticed, until one realises we’re no longer looking to the subtitles for clarity.
After a couple of scenes of what seems superficial chat, full of context and sub-meaning (classic Ibsen!), Irene does indeed return to find Rubek. This is a real treat for the audience as we get to witness the characters reminisce about their old days together, whilst sitting by a fully working stream, impeccably created by set and costume designer Mayou Trikerioti. The set is transformative, immersive and symbolic, inviting us into the world and ideas of the play. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the costume design; the aesthetic seems inconsistent and overall dull. It doesn’t meet the level set by staging, sound (Peter Gregson) and performance.
The cast are fantastic as a cohort: Roger stands out as Rubek, capturing the inner anxieties of the character with great precision. Gudbrandsen is also excellent as the conflicted and mysterious Irene. The Coronet stage, however, feels a little too large for this intimate and tight knit story, although the text and direction are engrossing enough for it not to not be a major issue.
When We Dead Awaken is classic Ibsen; it picks apart humanity and is jammed full of symbolism. This version by the Norwegian Ibsen Company allows the play to be shown in its purest form: direction from Hansen allows the characters’ subtext to be explored successfully, and stillness is used as a megaphone for actors to silently convey their inner monologue.
Written by Henrik Ibsen
Adapted and directed by Kjetil Bang-Hansen
Produced by The Coronet Theatre & The Norwegian Ibsen Company
When We Dead Awaken plays at The Coronet Theatre until 2 April.. Further information and booking via the below button.