Review: Summer Rolls, Park Theatre - tough love viewed through a lens in the first British Vietnamese play
Review: Dark Sublime, Trafalgar Studios - laughs and hammy 80s sci-fi but could be slicker

Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York's Theatre - loved the first half, second not so much

Rosmersholm has a lot in it to be admired and for the most part is a powerful, gripping and exposing piece of theatre but it feels let down by the weaknesses of the second half.

Hayley Atwell in Rosmersholm. Photo: Johan Persson.

Written in 1886 Ibsen's play Rosmersholm has themes which resonate today: how can you instigate social and political change and the corrupting power of the media.

At it's heart is Rebecca West (Hayley Atwell) who is trying to affect change and remain independent in a patriarchal society.

She is a long staying guest at the home of John Rosmer whose wife committed suicide a year earlier.

In today's society, she might be called a disruptor, in Ibsen's time, she was a radical who eschewed marriage so as to avoid being defined by her husband. In Rosmer, she sees the seeds of a fellow disruptor.

Piers Hampton and Tom Burke in Rosmersholm. Photo: Johan Persson

He has inherited his family home and lives comfortably yet advocates the destruction of the system from which he benefits.  He believes entitlement is wrong and should be replaced by a system which benefits the many not the few.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

You can draw parallels with those who today question the fairness of capitalism and efficacy of growth economics particularly against the backdrop of climate change.

Ibsen adds a love story and skeletons in the closet to heighten the drama.

Hayley Atwell and Tom Burke in Rosmersholm. Photo: Johan Persson

Rebecca and John obviously admire each other's intellect but have also fallen in love.

Their unconventional relationship and their pasts come under scrutiny from the local press when Rosmer expresses his desire to support a more liberal candidate in the local elections, a move which is seen as betraying his class and peers. 

As the election looms, pressure mounts and Rebecca's and Rosmer's convictions and relationships are tested.

Lucy Briers and Hayley Atwell in Rosmersholm. Photo: Johan-Persson

The first half of the play is taken up with fiery and interesting debate about the structure of society, the role of class and women.

It is like watching a community trying to eat itself to hide the evidence of its own short-comings.

However, the second half of the play sees the relationship drama come to a head and exposes weaknesses in the plot.

Loyalties and emotions melodramatically flip-flop. 

Tom Burke and Giles Terera in Rosmersholm. Photo: Johan Persson

There is a line which is served up to make you question Rebecca's motives: Heroic sacrifice or merely a manipulator who has been found out but the sides to the argument don't feel sufficiently established.

I loved the solidity with which Hayley Atwell plays Rebecca. There is an energy and skip to her, without being girlish which would undermine the character. But, in Ibsen's denouement if feels like the character is let down.

Rebecca and John are painted into a narrative corner resulting in an ending which feels like a cop-out. I wasn't convinced, it felt at odds with the weight of character and argument that had come before.

Hayley Atwell and Company in Rosmersholm. Photo: Johan Persson

Rosmersholm has a lot in it to be admired and for the most part is a powerful, gripping and exposing piece of theatre but it feels let down by the weaknesses of the second half.

It's 2 and a half hours long including an interval and I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half. It is at the Duke Of York's Theatre until July 20.

If you are on a budget and want to see Rosmersholm try TodayTix, I bought a £20 rush ticket on the day and was in the third row of the Royal Circle.

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Interview: Actor and writer Tuyen Do on diverse narratives and having her first full-length play staged.

From the archives: The first James Graham play I saw and it was a cracker (The Man, Finborough Theatre)