Little Eyolf by the National Theatre of Norway

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It is over 120 years since Henrik Ibsen’s Little Eyolf first performed in the Deutshces Theater of Berlin, but its message remains strikingly pertinent. In the play, Ibsen captures, as so few other playwrights do, the concomitant sense of guilt and remorse that underpins a fraying marriage.

The performance opens with Alfred’s (Kåre Conradi) return from a six-week walking tour in the mountains. He is greeted by his doting wife Rita (Pia Tjelta), but Alfred is distracted. Explaining to his wife that he has had an epiphany of sorts while in the mountains, Alfred tells Rita that he will make their partially crippled son, Eyolf (Sebastian Sørlie Lamb), the centre of his life.

Throughout the show, there is a palpable awkwardness between the couple; Alfred rarely looks into his wife’s eyes, even as Rita clings to him, pleading for his attention. Their relationship is made all the more nebulous by the constant presence of Alfred’s half-sister Asta (Ine Jansen), who Alfred used to call his ‘little Eyolf’. Only in her absence and Eyolf’s are the cracks in Alfred and Rita’s relationship exposed.

Each cast member brings pace and originality to the performance. Little Eyolf is a play relatively unknown by Ibsenian standards, granting the actors a little more freedom in the direction of their characters. Performed in Norwegian with English surtitles, the six-person ensemble did well negotiate past the premature bouts of laughter from the audience before lines were spoken.

It is a pity that the show only played for three nights at the Print Room at the Coronet. Following an 18-year British drought, one can only hope that it does not take the Norwegian National Theatre this long to return again.

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