When We Dead Awaken, Coronet Theatre

by Euan Vincent

Arnold Rubek (Øystein Røger), a once great sculptor whose creative blaze now resembles little more than an ember, arrives in Norway with his young wife Maia (Andrea Bræin Hovig). He had once promised to take her to the top of a mountain and show her all that the world has. He never did. And so, she – young, frustrated – and he – despondent, lifeless – are stale and drifting apart. Along come Irene (Ragnhild Margrethe Gudbrandsen), Arnold’s long forgotten muse and former model and Ulfhejm (James Browne), a rugged bear-hunter – to tempt each into their separate awakenings.

Ibsen’s play is infused with poetry and poetic technique. It is a sort of dirge to lives lived as waking death, while still retaining some hope of their resurrection. Director Kjetil Bang-Hansen marshals the material with the lightest of touch. The opening distance between Rubek and Maia, the music that softly plays whenever Irene enters a scene, the water that suddenly flows between the long-lost lovers Irene and Rubek – it’s all wonderfully elegant and shows a real appreciation of Ibsen’s ideas.

Mayou Trikerioti continues this appreciation with a particularly apt set, nodding as it does to several of Ibsen’s metaphors. The focal point of which – a rubble of household items – depicts both the amassing of objects that serve to confine us (Irene whines that Arnold’s sculpture had stripped her of her soul), and the clutter of grievances that develop between people over time. All the while it serves as the mountain that all participants must somehow climb to their reawakening.

Øystein Røger grapples masterfully with Rubek, a character who is simultaneously a solid and proud
artist and yet old, expired and empty. He portrays all these antonyms with studied consideration. Both Browne and Gudbrandsen inject welcome pace and gusto into the opening mise en scene of the couple’s stilted and fading love. Overall, this is a neat little play lovingly recreated by the Norwegian Ibsen Company.

When We Dead Awaken runs through 2 April.

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