As a lover of Ibsen, I was keen to see Richard Eyre’s new production of Little Eyolf at the Almeida Theatre. Displaying the playwright’s talent for exploring troubled marriages, it tells the story of Alfred and Rita Allmers, a couple whose relationship is in crisis. After spending some time away, Alfred has decided to give up on his idea of writing a book in favour of focusing his attentions on the education of his son, Eyolf. This decision leads to jealousy on the part of his wife, who confesses she wants Alfred all to herself, and admits that she wishes Eyolf had never been born. However, tragedy soon strikes.
I was hugely interested in this play, which started off as a domestic drama and then became something else entirely, as Alfred (Jolyon Coy) and Rita (Lydia Leonard) have to confront their guilt and the difficulties of their mixed feelings towards one another: we learn, for instance, that Eyolf was permanently crippled after falling from a table while the couple were making love. We discover that Alfred only married the wealthy Rita to ensure that his sister Asta (Eve Ponsonby) would be comfortable, and there are hints of incestuous feelings between the siblings.
The set is stark and rather IKEA-like, but I thought it worked well against the beautiful backdrop of the lake. The play also features a dog, brought on by the Rat-Woman (Eileen Walsh) who uses it to hunt rats in the neighbourhood and who attracts the attention of Eyolf – rather like the Pied Piper, I thought.
This is a short production but it is an emotionally affecting one. Definitely recommended.