By Aline Mahrud
WORTH A LOOK?: ***
WHEN?: Saturday 1 October (matinee), runs to 26 November 2022 RUNTIME: 105 minutes (no interval)
Russell Beale plays Borkman the titular banker jailed for fraud, released and plotting his comeback from the top floor of his luxury home he shares with his estranged wife.
- Read on for reasons including how the acting is convincing but the subject matter is bleak
John Gabriel Borkman was Ibsen’s penultimate work published in 1896 and its contemporary setting finds relevance now as Russell Beale’s character envisions the prosperity only he could bring to the world at a time when our own Government is relaxing the cap on bankers’ bonuses.
Borkman’s wife Gunhild is played by 3-times Olivier winner Clare Higgins (Clarion, Arcola and so moving recently in Apple TV’s Trying) and she is desperate for the family’s good name to be restored but is thrown by the arrival of her sister to her home after 8 years apart.
Sister Ella is played by Lia Williams (The Night Of The Iguana, Noel Coward Theatre, pictured right in main image) and we learn quickly that she is keen to renew her relationship with Borkman’s son Erhart, played by Sebastian de Souza, who she helped raise but has been apart from.
Russell Beale (Bach & Sons, Bridge Theatre, pictured above) won a Tony for his last role in The Lehman Trilogy, which returns to the West End in 2023, and its subject matter of the flaws of capitalism is 1 which he again gravitates towards.
This new version by Lucinda Coxon unmasks Borkman as a woman hater who has murdered the love that his wife’s sister had within her for him thanks to his pursuit of power through wealth.
Directed by Nicholas Hytner, each of the 3 central characters have very different reasons for wanting de Souza’s (TV’s Normal People) Erhart to follow them but much of the drama revolves around the cost of sacrificing money for financial gain.
It’s occasionally funny but we are generally marvelling at how awfully Borkman is behaving and how he appears to have such conviction in his ability to bring wealth to people that he could possibly be deluding himself.
It’s a dark and harrowing play without a break and, while the acting is convincing, it’s so bleak that it’s easy to see why there are empty seats in the audience even this early in the run and so shortly after press night.
- Pictures via Facebook by Manuel Harlan courtesy Bridge Theatre Tickets
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I really enjoyed it but agree with all the criticisms of the play. To that extent it’s an object lesson in how to redeem a dud with stellar performances (Williams and Beale especially good), imaginative music, sound, set design. The modern context didn’t really work (after all, many of the attitudes are dated) but it’s a minor quibble.