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Ibsen in Performance

Director Shana Cooper is taking a unique approach to staging THE LADY FROM THE SEA at Court Theatre. Read on to discover how different directors and actors have brought Ibsen to life on stage and film.

With such prestige attached to his name, Ibsen’s famous works capture the creative interests of many directors and actors from all over the world as they yearn to tackle his plays in new productions. Performing Ibsen entails a variety of approaches to his texts as living documents capable of being re-contextualized in ways that accentuate their undeniable modernity. The themes explored often connect to struggles audiences everywhere can still identify with.

In a recent UK film production of The Lady from the Sea, screenwriter Birgit Myaard and director Leon Mitchell aim to develop their own re-imagination of the play by infusing it with a 21st century touch that exemplifies how Ibsen’s works continue to remain relevant in the modern day. Myaard has said that exploring Ibsen has been a method for her to reconnect with her ancestral roots in Norway due to his depictions of the country and his cultural significance there. The film features K-Syran, a Norwegian singer, and was released with an original soundtrack that conveys a similar mysticism to that found in the play.

On the stage, directors and actors continue to grapple with the mythos of Ibsen and his famous texts. In 2019, the cast of a staging of Lady produced by the Norwegian Ibsen Company wanted to immerse themselves in the same surroundings Ibsen was exposed to when writing his play. Actors Kåre Conradi and Pia Tjelta rehearsed with their cast for their bilingual production of Lady in the very abode Ibsen lived in at the time of creating it. They appealed to the Norwegian government for this opportunity and were able to bring along their team to rehearse in his former flat at Victoria Terrasse in Oslo.

To reinforce the divide within the Wangel clan, director Marit Moum Aune chose to re-imagine the doctor and his two daughters as expats from England who were drawn to Norway due to Wangel’s relationship with Ellida, a move that would breed resentment on the girls’ part as they had to upend their lives for their father’s new bride. The Wangels speak strictly in English with one another while Ellida navigates two linguistic worlds, talking in Norwegian with her close friend Arnholm and the locals of her hometown (subtitles were projected onto a wall in the production). The cast immersed themselves in the landscape, visiting places Ibsen reportedly went to and working into the dusk hours to get into a similar headspace as the playwright may have been when creating his work.

In other Ibsen productions, teams have decided to accentuate the subtle humor laced throughout Ibsen’s work. From Jeremy Raison’s production of Ghosts that exaggerates and satirizes a character’s views on fidelity to Lee Breuer’s Mabou Mines DollHouse (an adaption of A Doll’s House) that dabbles with physical comedy as visual representations of gender battles, some directors choose to apply a more jocular touch to Ibsen’s work, lending it a sense of renewed energy as they explore the nuance of the playwright’s social commentary. These different tactics in approaching Ibsen reflect the wide variety of reactions and interpretations his works elicit. The ability to reinterpret and re-imagine these plays is a contributing factor to the endurance of Ibsen’s plays in modern productions.

Previews to The Lady from the Sea begin February 25. Learn more →

Photo of Chaon Cross by Joe Mazza.

Posted on January 26, 2022 in Productions

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