THEATRE REVIEW: The Lady From The Sea, Royal Exchange (Manchester)

It is not often that I am actively looking forward to going to see a play, but Henrik Ibsen is one of my favourite playwrights and ‘The Lady From The Sea’ one of his best works, so naturally I was more than curious. ‘The Lady From The Sea’ is the story of a Norwegian doctor and his wife, a wife who is most certainly a sea-person, but who may or may not be completely mad. The story focusses too on the doctors daughters and their future prospects. I was delighted also that the play was going to be staged in the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester as this theatre is one which really lends itself to this type of performance.

The nature of the RX is that it requires the actors to hurriedly build the stage in front of the audience and perform the play in the middle of the floor, surrounded by the audience. In this play, this allowed Sarah Frankcom, director, much more creative license than would have been achieved in the traditional setting. The RX theatre lends itself well, too, to the sound effects which really brought the audience into the story.

Costumes can not be faulted, attention to detail was evident and it had to be given how close the audience were to the performance. Props and set pieces set the scene very well – some of the actors dragged on a rowing boat and got inside only for a matter of seconds. To say no expense spared might go too far but there certainly wasn’t anything wanting where the visuals were concerned.

The same can not, however, be said about some of the acting. Lyngstrand, the hapless and bumbling suitor of the eldest daughter of the play was played by newcomer Sam Collings. Never before has an actor been less aware of what to do with his hands when delivering a line. Lines that, by in large, were poorly delivered anyway. Whenever there is humour in his prose it is delivered as a gag, and a gag-ful play, this is not.  However, with other actors Collings seems more comfortable and settles into the part for a while. It may or may not be a blessing that the dialogue is sufficiently generous toward the character to allow the audience’s attention to wander away from the arms which rarely attempt to be part of the actor’s body at all.

Another actor who suffers the unmoving hand affliction is Reece Dinsdale (yes him, fresh from the arms of Gayle Platt aka ‘Unborn Dinosaur Feotus’ in Corrie). Dinsdale played Doct0r Wangel, patriarch of the play and played it well. Well, it was good if you don’t mind actors not changing their tone or pitch no matter the emotion being conveyed. How can a man be as cheerful when asking his wife for a divorce as he is enjoying the sunshine bright on a good summer’s day?

That said, all the other actors were right on target. Neve McIntosh was an exemplary choice for the character of Ellida. She plays a mad, lovelorn and loveless woman extremely well. Her job was made all the harder by some of  her fellow actors delivering lines as though they were their last, but she managed to keep the atmosphere and passion of Ellida very much alight and for that I commend her.

One other character of note was that of A Stranger, the one time lover of Ellida, who may or may not be a ghost but has come to take her to the sea nonetheless. Whilst actor Bill Ward managed to get the lines out, as an audience member I wasn’t entirely convinced he could win Ellida’s heart nor in fact that his heart was ‘in it’. And alas, there certainly wasn’t any other acting prowess going on. Perhaps Bill Ward, otherwise known as Evil, Evil Charlie Stubb’s, again of Corrie Fame, had been a little but nicer to Tracy Barlow he might not have ended up murdered, or indeed murdering a good chunk of Ibsen’s work in the Royal Exchange this evening.

All said, however, I loved this play. As much as some of the acting was off-key, it didn’t distract from the story too much and I left feeling that I wouldn’t mind, perhaps, seeing this play again before the run finishes on November 6th.

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Hugh Hamill

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