When We Dead Awaken

We’ve been to the Unity to see Ibsen’s When we Dead Awaken,  his final and seldom performed work. It’s a major international collaboration between the Unity  theatre and two Swedish companies, Riksteatern and Vasterbottensteatern.

This review from the Daily Post:

The main theme of When We Dead Awaken is art and the artist, and the cost to human life and relationships when the urge to create a masterwork is greater than all. An intense and melodramatic 80- minute effort with no interval, the play explores the fates of four people – sculptor Rubek and his flighty and neglected younger wife, Maja; the rugged hunter who attracts her attention; and Irene, Rubek’s long-lost muse.

When Rubek and Irene reunite after years apart, she having been driven mad by the circumstances of their parting, two lifetimes of regret and misunderstandings come to a harrowing climax. The sculptor, trapped in his calling as an artist and how it has crippled his own human feelings and emotions, is played earnestly by Robert Pickavance, whose haunted eyes tell a sorry tale all their own.

The confusion of Maja is well conveyed by Swedish actress Tove Olsson, with a real tension between her and Matthew Zajac. Susanne Gunnersen, also from Sweden, copes well with the at times almost unbearably tortured Irene.

The simple set of four large canvases are moved by the players, all dressed in white, to change the sense of location, and a sparely used cello soundtrack sets the sombre tone.

A play striking in its effectiveness but so desperately serious in its Nordic bleakness as to almost be ripe for parody at times, it demands a lot from its audience, yet it is possibly its stark simplicity that makes this production a memorable one.


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