In sixth form, I studied Hedda Gabler, part of Henrik Ibsen’s more well-known canon of 12 plays, and what I remember most is the sheer potency of the text. A pervasive tension dominated each scene, with wild and witty characters demanding your every attention and invigorating a ferocious plot. With Lady Inger, ottisdotter have dived into Ibsen’s more obscure earlier catalogue of plays, and have succeeded in demonstrating that this lesser-known play contains the same potency found in the playwright’s most popular works.
However, the artistic direction of Drs Mark Ewbank and Holly Prescott elevates this production from a dry scholarly exploration to a determined rejuvenation of the original text. The set design is an excellent example of this, the high vaulted ceilings of The Space combining with minimalist staging to encapsulate the competing austerity and grandeur of a medieval hall. What’s more, red livery and A4-paper portraits of noble ancestors reinforce the history explored in the script, and an oppressive sense of tradition screams out at each character as the stage becomes a focal point of historical pressure.
The play is set in late 16th century Norway, and follows Lady Inger of Austratt (Kristin Duffy), a Norwegian noble who has fought to maintain her reputation and status under the yoke of Danish oppression. Inger seeks to persuade her daughter Elina (Juliet Ibberson) into aiding her political plots, involving the manipulation of soon-to-arrive Danish noble Nils Lykke (Ivan Comisso). Chief Steward Bjørn (Siôn Grace) serves as Elina’s counsel, concerned by her increasing stubbornness and newfound independence.
Meanwhile, budding Norwegian rebel Olaf Skatavl (Thomas Everatt) persists in complicating matters through his attempts at sedition against the Danes. This complexity is further compounded by the arrival of Nils Stenson (Joe Lewis), whose identity is hotly contested by each character. The plot develops within the confines of Austratt’s main hall as a torrid cocktail of misinformation, political intrigue and personal deceit unfolds. This production remains unpredictable until the very end.
Ewbank’s sharp direction makes clever use of the entire venue. Characters make surprising entrances from unseen doors, and the climax of the play involves a terrifying monologue from Duffy as she emerges onto the gallery of The Space (a renovated Church), elevated metres above both audience and stage. Unfortunately, the choreography of more physical parts of the performance felt awkward at times, as did the delivery of several lines. These issues occasionally disrupted the immersion of this production, making the 2 hour 20 minutes runtime drag a little.
Comisso provides an enthralling performance of Nils Lykke, a cunning Danish noble who enjoys wreaking romantic havoc on the lives of the women around him. He fills Lykke’s soliloquies with vigour and wit, harnessing the turbulent emotions of a character wrestling with their own ambition and masculinity.
Duffy is bewitching as Lady Inger, presenting the steely determination of a mother haunted by family trauma with aching clarity, while always foregrounding the protagonist’s impossible dilemma between politics and the personal. Her costume is especially compelling: a flowing dark dress with a shining silver neckpiece evokes her ruthlessness and lends her an astounding stage presence as she begins her gut-wrenching descent into destructive madness.
Ibberson’s Elina also deserves a mention, playing an essential role in capturing a believably volatile mother-daughter relationship. Subtle moments of compassion also highlight the persistent, aggressive male threat the two female characters face.
ottisdotter’s Lady Inger is brutal and mesmerising, with a strong cast that infuses the production with powerful emotion. Prescott and Ewbank capture the isolation and terrible power of an Ibsen woman pushed to her limit.
Written by: Henrik Ibsen
Directed by: Dr Mark Ewbank
Artistic directors: Dr Mark Ewbank and Dr Holly Prescott
Produced by : ottisdotter
Lady Inger plays at The Space until 8 July. Further information and bookings can be found here.