Little Eyolf opens with two women excited about the return of Alfred (Jolyon Coy). Rita (Lydia Leonard) is Alfred's husband and Asta (Eve Ponsonby) is, well, at first that it isn't clear what her relationship is and that is part of the genius of Richard Eyre's production. Her body language suggests more than familiar love, is she a sister in law with secret desires?
Once their relationship is revealed there remains a residual feeling of ambiguity about her feelings for Alfred that permeates all their encounters. Alfred for his part is a bit of a block. He's been away hiking in the mountains in order to kick start his writing again but in the nature of his return neither Rita or Asta will be at peace. While he was away he had an epiphany about his life, decided to give up writing and instead devote his time and attention to his son Eyolf having previously neglected him.
This isn't music to Rita's ears who feels her husband is slipping away from her, transferring his affection onto their son. She is desperate to rekindle the passion they had when they were first married, to the point where she strips off in order to provoke her husband. Lydia Leonard's Rita is a complex mix of suppressed sexuality, jealousy, loneliness and desperation. She is like a mother lion defending her cub in whatever way she can except she is defending a relationship that is slipping from her grasp.