Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Ibsen As Intense Modernity

Little Wolf

Lucid Theatre , Chapter , October-23-17
Little Wolf by Lucid Theatre Two giants dominate from the theatre of the late nineteenth century. It is a rare time when they are not to be seen somewhere on a stage in Britain. In a strange synchronicity three companies of Wales are performing Chekhov and Ibsen in the same week. This being theatre, a form of extraordinary variegation, they are very different.

In Sheffield, Theatr Clwyd's co-producing partner, Peter Gill has brought a masterly subtlety to his adaptation but the play remains within the author's setting of place and time. “The Cherry Orchard” has long ago left its Russian setting. Thomas Kildare relocated it in a pre-Civil War Ireland where it worked to perfection. At the Sherman its placing in 1980's Pembrokeshire stretches Chekhov but its description is a reimagination. A couple of miles west, Senghenydd Road to Canton, Simon Harris has hauled “Little Eyolf” of 1894 into a modern day setting. There is a sound reason; the nature of the depiction of the child makes it hard to put on a 2017 stage. The result is rich theatre, intense in its performances and complex in its emotions.

Simon Harris has wisely resisted any temptation to take the action to Wales. Ibsen is too deeply embedded in the culture of Norway to give its transposition logic. After-the-show talks have a habit not to reveal much but on this occasion the chairing is in the hands of one who knows his theatre. Simon Harris speaks of the engrainedness of Lutheran culture in Scandinavia which results in a directness of expression between people. The interchanges of tortured emotions in a British setting would ring false. The production is fixedly Norwegian. Children's song is used in the intervals between scenes and Holly Piggot's design uses palely coloured wood. The socks are woolly, the pullovers chunky.

The casting has been streamlined to a foursome, two women, two men. Every piece is both itself and contains cadences from elsewhere. There are intimations of the intensity of Patrick Marber's “Closer.” In Simon Harris' characterisation John-Paul Macleod's Lars is a tech guy. His departure at the end is for Singapore, his task to network smaller islands in the region. But above all the retitled “Little Wolf” has echoes of Edward Albee where the centre also is a child who is not there. On the evidence of the recent production the Norwegian dramatist is rather more subtle and rather less relentless than the American.

The fulsome background notes to the production place an emphasis on the importance of complex characterisation. Dramatists keep their private opinions under their sleeve. Our allegiances swivel as the scenes unfold. Alex Clatworthy's Rita has a volatility and freedom of expression that could never be in Ibsen. Melangell Dolma's Asta is a deep repository of ambiguous connection. It looks as if the male is the most under critique. That is in part because notions of reverence towards the author-as-genius have long since been diluted. Gwydion Rhys' Alfred may well have spent his long hours gazing into the deepest black of the Fjords. He is going to be viewed by a modern audience as citizen, husband, father.

Thus his sudden declarations that he will become a reformed parent have small conviction. It is a regular tactic of those whose concerns are elsewhere. But it is not the point to slap good or bad labels on the characters. In fact the early scenes demonstrate the opposite. It takes two to make an emotionless desert from a marriage. “Say what you like...say something” runs the plea at one point. The emotional vacancy is translated into stage action. The child's train set that sits centre-stage is ignored, stepped over or occasionally kicked. Gwydion Rhys pulls up floorboards to reveal their dark voids.

Simon Harris sets the spoken action going at a high pace. The actors speak in the breathlessness of crisis. He ends with a visual image of great power. “Little Wolf” is a production of high accomplishment; would that the tours of Wales saw more of its kind.

“Little Wolf” continues until November 25th at Volcano, Clwyd, Brycheiniog, the Riverfront and Pontio.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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