Ah, that Henrik Ibsen. I bet he was a hit at parties eh? "I'm in an ethical dilemma Mr Ibsen, what should I do?" "Kill yourself." "I'm confused about the current political situation Mr Ibsen." "Kill yourself." "I'm not sure what colour to redecorate the bathroom." "Kill yourself." I didn't study much Ibsen at University but I can't say I've warmed to him - frankly wanting to see this production of Rosmersholm had more to do with wanting to see the fab Helen McCrory (probably best known to Americans and other aliens at the moment as Cherie Blair in The Queen, but soon to be better known as Narcissa Malfoy in the Potter films) on stage. And she was indeed worth the trip, giving a magnetic performance despite obviously having a cold.
In fact the whole cast in this suicide-tastic 1886 play is excellent; as well as McCrory as Rebecca West (is she the manipulator or the manipulated?) Malcolm Sinclair stands out as Doctor Kroll, perfectly pitching his indignant right-winger with just the right level of comedy so that the character retains enough of the edge of a threat. All in all Anthony Page's production is spot-on, my only problems really being with the play itself - no matter how good the cast they can't lift the dull second act where Rosmer (Paul Hilton) discovers that neither the Socialists nor the Conservatives will accept his newfound move to the left wing without setting their own spin on it. Things do pick up in the penultimate act though as Rebecca's various family secrets start to come to light.
Hildegard Bechtler's grey set, based on the paintings of Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi, are oppressively solid (although this does mean set changes necessitate two intervals, which makes the evening drag a bit) and the titular house, subtly lit by Peter Mumford, is a prison for Rosmer not in the literal sense, but in the years of tradition and responsibility the name has come to signify.
Having said all that, the evening's left me rather elated; although that may just be relief that I'm not a 19th-Century Norwegian.
Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen in a version by Mike Poulton is booking until the 5th of July at the Almeida.