Olaf

Olaf, by Ottisdottir Productions, is the first production of Ibsen’s 1856 play Olaf Liljekrans in the UK since 1911. Adapted by Mark Ewbank and performed in the intimate Barons Court Theatre, it’s an enjoyable fable that reveals the younger Ibsen exploring themes that would come to fruition in his later work.

Arne Of Guldvik (Che Watson) has brought his daughter Ingeborg to marry Olaf, son of Lady Kirsten (Rebekka Magnúsdóttir), in order to end a feud between the two rival landowners. However, the groom is nowhere to be found. Rumoured to have been ‘bewitched in the mountains’, it soon becomes apparent that he has fallen in love with another woman, Alfhild. Will he stay true to her, or will he be persuaded to renounce his love in favour of a marriage of convenience?

In its language and plot, the play is somewhat reminiscent of Shakespeare, with a light, comedic tone throughout and some beautiful speeches. The company have managed to do a lot with very little: barely any set and a handful of props are all that are needed. The performances are strong, particularly from Teddy Robson as Olaf. Sarah Madden also convinces as the flighty Ingeborg, while Grace Monroe draws our sympathy as Alfhild.

This enjoyable play isn’t Ibsen’s greatest, but it’s a must-see for any fans of his work, and is a lovely way to spend an afternoon or evening.

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The Feast at Solhaug

A world premiere in English, the presentation of The Feast at Solhaug, an early drama by Henrik Ibsen, was an exciting event at the Barons Court Theatre. The tiny, stone-lined space proved perfect for the historical saga, set in Norway during the Middle Ages.

The play is centred around Margit, a forerunner of Ibsen’s later powerful heroines like Nora Helmer and Hedda Gabler, who is trapped in a marriage to a man she despises. When her sister Signe comes to stay, followed by her ex-lover Gudmund, Margit faces a dilemma as Signe and Gudmund fall in love and hope to marry. Will Margit try to grasp her chance at happiness, or will she selflessly stand back in favour of her sister?

Directed by Mark Ewbank and Holly Prescott, the production is an atmospheric, powerful one, steeped in Norse folklore. There are some strong performances from the excellent cast, particularly Lucy Pickles as the complex Margit, whose passion and suffering comes to the fore at the end of the play. The Feast At Solhaug was always going to be an unmissable event for Ibsen fans, but the strong story and superb cast make it a good choice for the general theatregoer too.

A Christmas Carol

Christmas isn’t Christmas without A Christmas Carol. This version by Beyond Theatre, adapted and directed by Andrew Cleaver, began life as a radio version for Talking Newspapers for the Blind and has been tweaked into a stage version, performed at Barons Court Theatre.

I went along with a friend, which was just as well as I didn’t realise that the show was interactive. This was made a lot less embarrassing by not being alone. The audience had to make bell noises at the right time and occasionally pop on stage for a bit (I had to go, but hey, I got a sticker!). The thing about a tiny theatre like this is that there’s no escape.

Still, I did enjoy the show as something a little different. The performers, Adam Courting, Megan Holloway, Heledd Hart, Stephanie Jezard and Andrew Cleaver, were infectiously enthusiastic, and though I felt their show was a little too long, it was amusing and sometimes very funny – I loved how they brought on Bob Marley, complete with dreadlocks, instead of Jacob Marley. Scrooge’s ‘Bah Humbug’ Santa hat was also highly appropriate, and the performers made entertaining jokes revolving around their lack of cast and props. Not the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, but a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.

Lady Inger

A little-known Ibsen play, Lady Inger is performed at the Barons Court Theatre in west London. This historical drama is set in the sixteenth century and deals with conflict between Norway and neighbouring Sweden. It is a little dry and dull in parts – it’s easy to see why it hasn’t achieved the popularity of A Doll’s House or Ghosts – but it is redeemed by a strong and committed cast.

Georgina Pickul makes a superb Lady Inger, the woman who was the most powerful in Norway at that time. Her inner conflict and outward bearing are superbly done, and the closing scene of grief one which won’t leave me in a hurry. Director Mark Ewbank has created a stripped-down but impressive production of this tale of deceit and treachery that is well worth seeing.

Far From the Madding Crowd

I visited the Barons Court Theatre last night for the first time, in order to see an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From the Madding Crowd. I love Hardy and I was curious as to how the novel would work on the stage.

The theatre is a tiny room in the basement of the Curtains Up pub near Barons Court tube. Small and dark, excellent use has been made of the space, which is very atmospheric. Myriad Productions are a group that specialises in adaptations of the classics. That expertise certainly came across in this production, directed by Connie Stephens. Five actors played all of the principal parts, and all were convincing. Joanna O’Connor made a spirited and appealing Bathsheba Everdene, with James Kingdon a superb Gabriel Oak. James Edwards convinced as the obsessive Farmer Boldwood, while Maxwell Tyler was a suitably caddish Sergeant Troy and Anna Rowland a sympathetic Fanny Robin. The actors also took on some of the more minor roles, which helped to move the story along.

The adaptation was cleverly and thoughtfully done, with the story being told and partly narrated by Gabriel Oak. One thing I didn’t quite like was the flashback effect, which meant that the first scene also became one of the last. This would give the story away to anyone unfamiliar with it, and get rid of any narrative tension – although it’s fair to assume, I think, that few audience members at a show like this would not know the story.

I loved this production and, being a lover of the classics, I want to look out for more productions from this group in the future.